Remote learning raises challenges for community members with concussions

Kitt Urdang

Remote learning has brought new frustrations and discoveries for all students and staff, but the transition has been especially troublesome for community members who have suffered concussions, and who are therefore limited in the time they can spend in front of screens. For those currently experiencing a concussion, online classes are difficult at best and impossible at worst. For the larger group of students and faculty who have suffered concussions in the past, online learning can cause old symptoms to resurface.

Clay Mizgerd ’22 has suffered a history of concussions, with the most recent one last October. Mizgerd said he was nearly symptom-free until the transition to online learning began last week, but some problems have since begun to re-emerge. He has been forced to make adjustments in an effort to minimize screen time by trying to learn the class material from the book, and only watches the recorded lectures if the concepts still don’t click. 

Earlier this year, he missed the winter study term in order to recover from his most recent concussion. When he returned for the spring semester, he declined the College’s offer for academic accommodations because he thought he had healed, but “the transition to online learning has definitely not gone that smoothly,” he explained. Before the College shifted to remote learning, he was healthy enough to learn effectively, but “having this much screen time is not helping my symptoms, which were mostly gone,” Mizgerd said. He added that he has been in contact with his professors about the issues that have arisen, and that they have all been understanding and accommodating.

The switch to remote learning has affected faculty as well as students. Since her last concussion four years ago, Professor of History Karen Merrill has faced lingering post-concussion syndrome, which is accentuated when she spends extended periods of time working at her computer. During the school year, she likes to let her students know about the challenges she faces because “There are a lot of students on campus who [have had] concussions… and there can be really profound effects in terms of how you work, especially online,” she said. 

Merrill added that she knows there is no single way to address this issue for the entire community because concussions tend to affect people in very individualized ways. She has dealt with the increase in screen time over the past few weeks by taking frequent breaks from the computer and doing work off of the computer whenever possible.

During the school year, students experiencing concussions or post-concussive syndrome, or struggling with online learning in some other way, often receive support from the Office of Accessible Education. Wallace said that they only have one student currently receiving academic accommodations for concussion symptoms, and that Wallace and his colleagues are working with the student and their professors to make concussion-friendly adjustments to the courses.

Although no one has reached out to his office directly to ask for accommodations related to post-concussive syndrome or a new concussion so far, he encouraged students to express their needs to the College. “Once they begin to reach out, we can start figuring out what the best options are for them,” Wallace said. He instructs students, “Do not suffer in silence. There are a variety of things we can do to help support students and all we’re asking is that they reach out.”