VOICES: Making friends in the online class setting

Category:  Opinions
Friday, March 19th, 2021 at 11:46 AM
VOICES: Making friends in the online class setting by Alexander Beatty
Graphic: Eric Johnson

Friends are vital, like water or the air we breathe. Making friends can already be difficult during in-person social scenarios, but what about with online classes? It’s possible to make class friends, though challenging. It can depend on the professor, your effort in making friends, and the comfort of those you connect with.

But let’s back up for a second. The importance of building friendship bonds goes much deeper than you can imagine in regard to mental health and happiness. Friends are the people that are there for you no matter what you’re going through. They relieve stress, provide joy, and prevent isolation, according to HelpLine. Friends talk you out of bad decisions or become someone to bounce ideas off of. Having someone to reach out to when you’re not the best, either in mental or physical health, will help you overcome whatever struggle you’re going through. Friends are people you can count on.

Now, when students hear the words “breakout room,” they all groan and mumble to themselves. A professor groups a handful of students into separate virtual rooms to work together. Often that grouping is random. Though sometimes chaotic, this does force students to interact on a closer level than within the entire class session. Perhaps, during this time, students find a common interest and share ways of contacting one another (maybe even because of a group project). Perhaps they finally get to complain about a class. And even if not immediate pals, people in breakout rooms at least hear each others’ voices.

Lectures don’t have that personal connection. Sitting in class for an hour and just listening to a professor go on and on; the jolt of pain that arises in your writing hand and the ache in your mind from an overload of information. How could anyone focus on making friends within that process? How could anyone think about making friends with a digital face, or even worse, a name on a little square in the gallery view? This instead becomes nothing but letting the information you learn take form in messy scribbles of notes. Making friends in these types of online classes is highly unlikely.

I’ve sat in classes zoning out, completely bored out of my mind. The small screen traps someone’s identity into a small box, and there’s no way of knowing someone from a tiny square. Not to mention, it’s hard to get back and forth momentum in conversation. It’s just going to be one person talking. Even in smaller classes, I’ve found it difficult to get my voice to carry in conversation. With in-person, it’s much easier to join in. And with physical proximity, you sit next to someone and get those little moments of sharing notes or helping each other out with a lesson.

Despite how a professor may lead their class, though, there are ways to better your chances, as a student, of making friends in the online setting.

Social media use is continually on the rise. According to Pew Research, an estimated 72% of the population uses some form of social media. These medias are a way to connect to other people despite the distance that may separate them. You could be living hundreds of miles away from your friend on Instagram, so what is stopping students from making friends that would live much closer?

Similarly, using the class resources, like discussion boards, to strike up a conversation is important. Simply find commonality and make a comment. If they’re the right person to be friends with, they will respond. There’s also a class list of emails through D2L if you want to contact a student. Asking for help or advice on schoolwork is the perfect gateway to friendship.

Always be respectful though, because some students do feel uncomfortable with relative strangers. Nearly 42% of college students have anxiety and another 36% have depression (some form of it), according to the American Psychological Association. Both could make it difficult to make friends, approach people and even reply to a stranger (or classmate in this situation). This also applies to any other way of approaching students.

There’s also enormous benefits of joining online events offered by the campus and the community around us. The events generally have a specific topic and the people who join are also interested in that topic. This is an excellent way to make friends. Edinboro offers a wide range of events throughout the week, both through Zoom and in limited in-person spaces. There have been bingo nights, trivia games, and acts of creativity. Likewise, there are tons of clubs found on EngageEU that are interest based. With close to 140 clubs and organizations, Edinboro has something for everyone. You will meet friends through clubs.

Sitting around and waiting for someone to make the first step isn’t going to increase your odds at making friends. Take action and maybe when all this craziness is over, you’ll have a group of people to call your friends and to make you welcome in an in-person setting.

As part of this piece, I also wanted to survey fellow Spectator staffers. I asked them, “Has anyone made friends through an online class and how?” Here are some of their responses:

Hazel Modlin (Executive Editor): I have. I didn’t know anybody in one of my classes last semester, and I wanted to be able to reach out to someone in case I needed notes or a study group. So I emailed one of the girls who seemed nice through Zoom. I started by telling her my name, my year, and my major, and then I told her that I was reaching out to people in my classes in an attempt to make friends in an online environment. She actually did respond to my message, and she seemed pretty happy to receive the metaphorical extended hand, and we emailed a couple of times. She’s not a good friend of mine, and I wouldn’t go to her for life advice or anything, but we definitely helped each other through that class.

Emma McNeeley (News Editor): So, last semester my teacher had us put in the same breakout groups the whole semester for discussions and for a final project. We exchanged Snapchat information with each other and became friends. The one girl in that group is in a class I have this semester, so we’ve continued to text and build a friendship.

Alexander Beatty is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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