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Impacts of COVID-19 and social isolation on academic staff and students at universities: a cross-sectional studyThe impacts of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the shutdown it triggered at universities across the world, led to a great degree of social isolation among university staff and students. The aim of this study was to identify the perceived consequences of this on staff and their work and on students and their studies at universities. The study used a variety of methods, which involved an on-line survey on the influences of social isolation using a non-probability sampling. More specifically, two techniques were used, namely a convenience sampling (i.e. involving members of the academic community, which are easy to reach by the study team), supported by a snow ball sampling (recruiting respondents among acquaintances of the participants). A total of 711 questionnaires from 41 countries were received. Descriptive statistics were deployed to analyse trends and to identify socio-demographic differences. Inferential statistics were used to assess significant differences among the geographical regions, work areas and other socio-demographic factors related to impacts of social isolation of university staff and students. The study reveals that 90% of the respondents have been affected by the shutdown and unable to perform normal work or studies at their institution for between 1 week to 2 months. While 70% of the respondents perceive negative impacts of COVID 19 on their work or studies, more than 60% of them value the additional time that they have had indoors with families and others. . While the majority of the respondents agree that they suffered from the lack of social interaction and communication during the social distancing/isolation, there were significant differences in the reactions to the lockdowns between academic staff and students. There are also differences in the degree of influence of some of the problems, when compared across geographical regions. In addition to policy actions that may be deployed, further research on innovative methods of teaching and communication with students is needed in order to allow staff and students to better cope with social isolation in cases of new or recurring pandemics.
The use of objects to enhance online social research interviewsThe ongoing COVID-19 health emergency, and the restrictions that it has placed on research, led many researchers to the re-evaluation of how social research interviews need to go online and how these can be enhanced. The online space presents a platform that brings participants and researchers together in an environment owned by both regardless of who hosts the online session. Online methods are likely to continue through emergencies and crises in general and beyond, and this calls for innovative ways to enhance online research interviews. This chapter discusses a study of a series of online interviews where interviewees were invited to bring an object of personal value with the aim to facilitate a discussion on ‘happiness in lockdown.’ The selected topic served as a vehicle to explore this approach to online interviews while contextualising it in a crisis situation. It also helped to anchor the discussion around a positive theme in the middle of a global crisis. The study aimed at exploring the dynamics observed and the type of thematic materials gathered in this research context. The focus is to investigate the research technique and explore the benefits and challenges of using objects in social research interviews online. As participants select objects related to the research, they are given some control to steer the discussion. Hennigar (1997) discussed the shift in thinking when artefacts are placed at the center of the conversation, and the participant’s own values, beliefs and views about the world could be explored in more depth resulting in what Rubin and Rubin (2012: 95) call an ‘extended conversation.’ The purpose of such a conversation is to explore in depth some themes of relevance to the interviewee through their choice of objects. Using Thematic Analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006), we explored the richness, depth and genuineness of the materials gathered in object-based online research interviews. The chapter details the research process, discussing the benefits and challenges of using objects as enhancing tools in social research interviews conducted online. It considers how participants chose their items, how the tool compares with other enhancing tools, and some methodological implications. The chapter concludes with our reflection as interviewers offering advice to researchers who may choose to use this enhancing technique in their online interviews.