Art by Leah Bae
As the Pepperdine community treks through an online fall semester, professors and social event coordinators fight to capture student attention in and outside the classroom.
While both the academic and social spheres of Seaver College work to promote greater engagement, student activity groups face one primary obstacle: student attendance.
“I think virtual social events are good ideas in the sense that they mean well,” first-year Mary Paige Rowsey said. “They’ll help me know familiar faces when I get to campus. They can make you not feel so alone after being in your room all day, but I personally just don’t think you can truly get to know people through Zoom.”
Rowsey said she did not attend ICC’s Tide Pools club fair or the Student Programming Board’s events but participated in Panhellenic Recruitment. She said she felt hesitant to attend other virtual activities.
“Everything is still so new to me as a freshman, so meeting people, in general, can make me nervous,” Rowsey said. “Plus Zoom fatigue is real, and having to Zoom for social events after using it for class all day can be tiring.”
JD Arevalos, a member of The Board, said he understands the challenge in motivating students to attend online events. Unlike past years, the attendance for Board events this semester is smaller, averaging around 15 to 30 students.
“It’s different from last year due to the online format, but we are still trying to create community,” Arevalos said. “The numbers from last year were higher than the fall 2020 semester, but we realize this time is hard for everyone.”
The Board held online events over the summer, and Arevalos said its leaders prepared for an online fall semester. The team uses Peppervine, Instagram, Twitter and a newsletter to send invitations and information to students.
The Board is not the only organization evolving its plans for the semester. The Panhellenic team decided to conduct Recruitment virtually with the assistance of the National Panhellenic Conference. Senior Cienna Lagana, vice president of Recruitment, said 230 potential new members signed up to participate. Normal enrollment ranges around 270 to 300 potential new members for the fall semester, Lagana said.
“I think the biggest difficulty in online recruiting has been trying to reach those students on the fence because most of our promotions were done online via Instagram stories and the Panhellenic page,” Lagana said. “It’s harder to reach students not following those accounts.”
Lagana said she has been impressed with the smooth transition from in-person to online Recruitment.
“If I were a [potential new member], I’d be grateful I had an opportunity my first semester to get connected to a chapter right away,” Lagana said. “It can help them get connected to Pepperdine as more than just a place to log in to class.”
Psychology Professor Cindy Miller-Perrin said she finds it easier to reach students because they are determined to keep up with coursework.
Miller-Perrin teaches her Psychology 200 class in an asynchronous format, giving students the opportunity to watch lectures at their own pace. She also offers students a synchronous session to ask questions and receive clarification on course material. Miller-Perrin said the attendance she has seen online is consistent with typical numbers on the Malibu campus.
“I would say that attendance is probably less than 50%, probably more like one-third — but as any Elkins [Auditorium] teacher will tell you, that’s what you get when you have in-person classes too,” Miller-Perrin said.
Although the class is offered asynchronously, Miller-Perrin said she believes student engagement is at a high.
“I’ve been impressed, based on the emails I’m getting and the conversations I’m having, that the students seem to be really engaged,” Miller-Perrin said. “I would say students are probably more engaged with me than in the past. They’ve not lost motivation — they seem to want to do well.”
Communication Professor Christopher Stivers felt prepared for the transition online after teaching remotely during the Woolsey Fire. When Pepperdine sent students home during the spring 2020 semester, Stivers saw a silver lining.
“First of all, I’m not going to say that there’s any good news in this,” Stivers said. “However, for what’s happening right now, it was good that a year ago, the school had to close because of the fires toward the end of the fall semester. Those unfortunate events have facilitated our gradual exposure to this environment.”
Stivers said he has seen more silver linings to Zoom instruction as his online experience continues.
“There are some aspects of it that are better,” Stivers said. “I get participation from some people — some students — who normally would not participate.”
Professors and social event coordinators said they will continue to adapt to the online format and create new strategies for reaching students.
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