Virtual Hubs: How clubs continue in the online setting

by Anika Rai '23 for Silver Quest

It’s no secret that 2020 has been anything but chaotic. Thankfully, we’re still standing; well, technically we’re sitting—in front of our computer screens, to be exact. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us students, one thing has stayed constant: school. With school comes extracurriculars and clubs, and this year many clubs have forged forward and managed to provide students with a chance to build community during these unprecedented events that have destroyed any sense of normalcy.

As expected, transferring to an online platform comes with its benefits and drawbacks. To fit the new structure, many clubs have replaced what was once their interaction time with more demos and lectures. While this can take away from the personal aspect, which is integral to making connections and forming close relationships, some clubs have tried to take advantage of the situation to diversify their club. Math Team Captain Gabe Wu explained, “We host multiple meetings of different styles and lengths each week so that each member can find something they’re interested in.”

In the virtual world, stimulating conversation can be difficult. However, a lot of clubs have come up with novel methods to incentivize participation. Debate Team captain, Lara Ojha, explains that they have created a “mentorship system that assigned experienced debaters to novices and [which] was especially useful this year to provide extra guidance. Ojha explained, “It gave experienced debaters somewhere to channel their knowledge and keep them involved.” Clubs have tried using communal platforms, such as Kahoot, to integrate “fun, interactive experiences, which are typically the highlight of a meeting,” according to the Biology Team.

Interestingly, many clubs are experiencing a similar trend in club attendance and involvement. They have a larger turnout, but less participation during meetings. A lot of students opt to leave their cameras off and use the chat instead of speaking out loud, making it hard to connect one-on-one or gauge whether they grasp the content. Body language is an important indicator of communication, and since that cannot be easily expressed through Zoom, it's hard to conduct meetings in a typical way. The solution, breakout rooms, incites a polarizing reaction. Depending on the members of your group, discussions can be significantly awkward or surprisingly insightful. Captains have brought up that they “use breakout rooms as an easy way to get something off of the agenda.”

Most of the time, students feel more comfortable in smaller groups and will turn on their cameras and participate in the conversation. Paper Bridges club member, Annie Gao, explains that it provides for “some sort of social interaction, and usually, when one person turns their camera on, it creates a domino effect, allowing all the group members to turn them on and open up to one another.”

A big advantage of being online is that it is easier for outreach and inviting professionals to talk about their field. Lots of clubs have found opportunities to "bring in" guest speakers to talk about their work, and are encouraging students (especially the newer members) to express their passion for the subject. Other clubs, specifically Math Team, have also altered their requirements to join, making it more accessible to provide the student body with experiences that they never would have attended if conducted in person. Although clubs have had to adapt immensely this year, they have all found ways to make sure the time their members devote to them is meaningful.