The COVID-19 has overwhelmed many countries due to its high contagiousness and rapid spread as well as the control measures that most countries were forced to implement to mitigate or retard the spread of this disease (Ala’a B. Al-Tammemi, 2020; Wendelboe et al., 2020). This global pandemic has not only resulted in biological or psychological harm, but also in dramatic changes that severely afflicted many sectors and industries globally, including healthcare provision, economy, social life, travel, and education (Akour, AlMuhaissen, et al., 2021; Akour, Elayeh, et al., 2021; Ala’a B. Al-Tammemi, 2020; Aljaberi et al., 2021; Alrawashdeh et al., 2021; Fares et al., 2021; Morenike O Folayan et al., 2021; Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan et al., 2021; Garbóczy et al., 2021; Khatatbeh, Alhalaiqa, et al., 2021; Khatatbeh, Khasawneh, et al., 2021; Ramadan et al., 2021)
According to the United Nations (UN), the COVID-19 pandemic has created the most prominent global disruption in education. Nearly, 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The closures of educational institutes have affected around 94% of the world’s student population with more visible impacts in low- and middle-income countries (United Nations, 2020). Jordan was amongst the first countries in the Arab region to implement strict confinement measures in all sectors to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country (Ala’a B. Al-Tammemi, 2020; Ala’a B. Al-Tammemi et al., 2021; Khatatbeh, 2020, 2021). In the middle of March 2020, all universities were closed as a part of the pandemic response strategy in Jordan. Although there was no preparedness plan for the unprecedented transition to online distance education, the Jordanian government has invested extensive efforts through various ministries to make this emergency academic transition effective and efficient.
Nevertheless, the higher education system in Jordan has an unpleasant history regarding online distance education, and even the equivalency process for many external distance/online degrees was and still is a significant challenge (Akour et al., 2020). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the distance education strategy was not one of the priorities of the Jordanian higher education sector with around 25% or less of university courses were delivered remotely. Therefore, the abrupt transition from traditional face-to-face education to distance education in the Jordanian higher education institutions has created a new challenge for the students as well as the teachers. Our study found that the university students in Jordan have faced many impactful experiences while transiting from on-campus education to online distance one. Many of these experiences have negatively impacted the students similar to what was reported in prior quantitative studies in the country (Akour et al., 2020; Al-Balas et al., 2020; Ala’a B Al-Tammemi et al., 2020). Additionally, the literature shows more negative feedback within developing countries and the Arab region. The sudden switch to online distance education highlighted that this part of the world is not yet ready for this switch.
The overall aim of our current study was to get in-depth view about the lived experiences of university students in Jordan during the emergency academic transition to online learning amid the pandemic crisis. Presenting the voices and feelings of the students using their own words is expected to have a major impact on tackling the strengths and weaknesses of the implemented online education strategy in the country. Consequently, tackling various factors that impacted the students’ lived experiences has paramount importance to enhance the current education strategy, by implementing improvements and creating opportunities for a more quality education.
As many students in our study stressed the points related to digital preparedness, equity, and technical challenges, their lived experiences were found to be consistent with what has been reported in previous studies. Some studies provided an insight into the additional inequalities introduced by the online education system. Most of the reported disadvantages included the financial ability to purchase the needed equipment, such as laptops or desktop computers, high-speed internet, or other tools (Al-Balas et al., 2020; Alsoud & Harasis, 2021; Ibrahim et al., 2021). Moreover, the ability to afford a separate and quiet place to study and attend lectures is related to many factors, such as the number of members in the household, home size, and socio-economic status; thus, providing rich students with more privilege (Alsoud & Harasis, 2021; Ibrahim et al., 2021). The former factors also introduce rural-urban inequality as rural areas tend to be more crowded, with smaller houses and with lower access to the needed equipment and technological infrastructures (Alsoud & Harasis, 2021; Ibrahim et al., 2021).
Decision-makers of the education sector in Jordan are advised to consider the previously described crucial factors in future policies and decisions regarding university education during a crisis. More dedicated efforts in terms of fair, reliable, and credible evaluation and monitoring systems should be also considered.
Our current study has many strengths which are shaped in the following facts (i) Implementing a qualitative approach which helped to gain a comprehensive understanding of the students’ lived experiences and opinions, (ii) using a previously published theoretical model to support the framework of our qualitative approach, (iii) using various techniques as suggested by Lincoln and Guba (1985) (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Nowell et al., 2017) to ensure the trustworthiness of qualitative approach, and lastly (vi) following the Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research (COREQ).
Nevertheless, some limitations need to be acknowledged, including that the interview data represent self-reported states, thus, recall bias should be considered, and participants’ body language could not be fully observed due to using a videoconferencing platform to conduct the interviews.