iMU students remove masks and mingle virtually as class moves online for spring

Elizabeth Nestor and Marina Boyle

Unlike ever before, Mercyhurst iMU courses have had to transition to fully virtual delivery. As COVID-19 is an ever-present threat to our normal classroom existence, administration and professors alike have had to rethink their delivery of instruction.

As part of the freshman experience, freshmen take iMU as a class designed to build a student’s professional and personal repertoire. This is done through activities, experiences, and personal reflection. Another focus of iMU is to familiarize freshmen with the campus, college resources, fellow students, and staff.

iMU traditionally runs as two mini-courses, one during the fall and one during spring. During fall 2020, freshmen participated in an in-person module and at-tempted to keep the feeling of a normal iMU experience, albeit with masks and social distancing. Such protocols make it difficult for new students to chat to one another without having to yell across the six-foot gap and also inhibit group activities that might involve moving around the classroom, changing seats, or mingling in groups.

In acknowledgment of the restraints posed by the pandemic, spring semester iMU classes are proceeding entirely virtually. While this may sound dismal, freshmen have actually adapt-ed well to this new module and many are finding that they prefer this method to in-person or A/B classes.

“I was very nervous about iMU being taught through Zoom, mostly because of my inexperience,” said facilitator and director of Academic Support, Erica Cox. “However, I am finding that it is going much better than in the fall. I can see students’ reactions so I know when they are bored or if they are really listening. The fall semester made it hard to read people’s faces.” In fact, most students thoroughly enjoy the new virtual setup. Many freshmen have been loving the ease of Zoom meetings and being able to see each other’s faces without masks for the very first time.

“Transitioning from in-person iMU classes to Zoom has been a smooth process for me. In my opinion, being able to see people’s faces without masks has made the experience more personalized and comfortable. There have also been more productive conversations which is good because it means the students in the class are get-ting comfortable with one another. Breakout rooms have been effective because talking in front of a smaller group is less intimidating than the whole class,” said junior Laker Leader, Jacob Yetzer.

Some students have said that they feel that the virtual delivery has helped make the class feel more personal. “Being 100% virtual for iMU feels very different from years past. At first, it was a little bit difficult engaging with the students in the class. However, as the semester has progressed and people have settled in it has become much easier. We have primarily been using Zoom breakout rooms to facilitate various small group discussions, which I feel is helping students stay more engaged and interact with the course material more completely,” said senior Laker Leader, Brenden Jackett.

Shyness and anxiety are prevalent in first-year students, which can be relieved through virtual classes. The chatbox option can be an unintrusive and indirect way to communicate during class. With this function, students who may not feel comfortable speaking during class are free to participate in ways that they feel comfortable.

“Breakout rooms allow for more in-depth conversations, and I am getting to know my students better,” Cox said. “I am still looking forward to the day when we can all be in a completely typical classroom and all together, but until then we are making the best of it and I think Zoom has given us the opportunity to make iMU still feel like iMU.”

“I think one of the pros is that facilitators can do more group activities through breakout rooms, which can get the students engaged in the class,” senior Laker Leader, Chris Streibich said. “I think what might be more difficult is that it is harder to get to know the students personally be-cause of the lack of face-to-face interaction.”

Director of Alumni Relations Lindsay Frank is facilitating iMU this semester for the first time ever. “This is my first time facilitating iMU, meaning that I am not aware of how things were in-person. However, being on Zoom is a little tricky, but I appreciate that everyone is doing their best to be positive and cheerful even through a computer screen.”

Junior Laker Leader, Lauren Tone echoes the sentiment of her fellow Laker Leaders. “I personally found the transition of iMU to Zoom enlightening as I am able to see the face of each individual student, rather than memorizing names due to physical location in the classroom. As a virtual Laker Leader, I am losing the personal touch of speaking directly with each student in person. On the other hand, I am able to enhance each class and class participation through multiple attributes of modern-day technology. I believe this semester is superseding last semester. I have had the opportunity of working with a great facilitator and students who have made the online transition enjoyable and entertaining,” Tone said.