Everyone misses their friends from school during quarantine, it’s quite an obvious factor that plays into what makes online school such a drab sometimes. Though an even more glaring issue in my opinion would be the absence of casual conversation in the classroom. In online classrooms, everyone’s microphones tend to stay muted, and there isn’t often the branching out conversations that normally take place in a class in table groups or other such classroom orientations. I personally believe that a good solution for this problem would be the addition of optional google meets during FLEX days that students can join that aren’t part of some grade but rather a chance to socialize or talk about the class itself and what they’ve enjoyed without some looming grade or judgment from a teacher.
The most important part of this working in habilitating friendly interaction between students has to be the absence of grades in this optional Google Meet. The conversations had in class are normally breakout rooms meant for discussing current work in class and what answers there may be. However, a pretty glaring flaw with such groups is the absence of the environment a classroom during group work provides. Normally, when a class is doing group work the room is full of chatter and liveliness between the students. In comparison, the breakout groups tend to start and end with the blank screen of muted microphones and inactive webcams. A lot of what makes a class enjoyable can come from who you interact with within that class, and while some of that can still be found in breakout rooms, everything feels much more formal and less personal. The same can be said about seminars, which have the unfortunate attachment of being a grade for participation. Seminars are not a bad thing, but they aren’t a substitute for organic interaction that is normally found in an in-person class.
The problem arises with unmoderated conversation potentially leading to inappropriate things coming up, but what I’m proposing isn’t some teacher free space for students to talk like they do during lunchtime, but rather a chance for more relaxed and less tense discussion than what is found in seminars and sometimes breakout rooms. The teacher can be in the call to regulate and make sure nothing goes outside of what’s expected in the Code of Conduct, either by listening to students or just checking in on the chat bar every once in a while. I don’t think this is an outlandish request, but I think there is some concern to be had over how many people would actually attend these meetings given that they’re optional. It might be a good way to socialize, or maybe it would end up feeling the same way some classes can feel, constricting with a neverending silence from most students. The only way to know is if it were tested. Maybe ask your teachers, or don’t. After all, it’s just an idea.