First-year students at UO navigate social media, Zoom

During her first year at the University of Oregon, Brooklyn Porter expected to be living with a roommate in the residence halls, going to football games and soaking up life on campus.

Instead, she finds herself living at home in Oklahoma with her parents and two German shepard puppies.

Although the class of 2024 is not united by the typical first-year experiences, like going to football games, sharing meals in the dining halls or studying together in Knight Library, they are still finding creative ways to make memories, friends and connections.

Because Porter is in a different time zone, some days she ends class at 10 p.m. While she originally planned to move into the residence halls for winter term, the continuing restrictions imposed by the pandemic forced her to change her plans and she now expects to live with her parents until next year.

Despite the distance, she has managed to connect with many other first-year students, mainly through social media like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.

“Instagram is the best way to make friends,” Porter said. “The class of UO 2024 made an Instagram and posted all of the class and that’s how I have been making friends.”

 Like Porter, business major Wyatt Gowan said he has connected with friends through the UO Class of 2024 Instagram. After chatting on social media, he met up with a few of the people from the group to go on walks around Eugene.

“Even with the pandemic, you do have a shared experience with everyone here,” said Wyatt, who is living in Hamilton Hall. “Being a freshman on campus during a global pandemic, it’s not exactly a common experience.”

When school started, Gowen added people from his classes on Snapchat and has stayed friends with them that way. The groups also helped him with his academics.

“The downside of the online (recorded) lectures is that you can’t ask questions,” Gowen said, “but with the group chats I have joined, when I have questions, I can get them resolved, without asking the teachers.”

Torrye Torrance, a theater arts major living with parents in Eugene, shares some of the same frustrations as Gowan. Torrance noted that it’s hard not getting the same one-on-one attention that was common in previous educational settings. At the same time, “Having the work be more independent has been a nice way to enter university.”

Many first-year students reported both positive and negative experiences with Zoom learning.

“I kind of like the small classes where you meet on Zoom because you can do it from your bed, so there is a really small chance of you not going,” said Hannah Kerin, a business and Chinese major. “I think if it was on campus and I had to walk to class, there would be more times where I wouldn't go.”

At the same time, both Kerin and Gowan cited issues with the time management and organizational skills that come with asynchronous learning, a class style where there are no real-time class lectures. Without the structure of class time, “it feels like the asynchronous classes is something you forget about until the assignments are due,” Kerin said.

For Torrance, Zoom is a way to stay connected with favorite activities, in this case the Oregon Marching Band. Torrance plays the trumpet and said the remote practice sessions with other musicians has been a way to do what they love and make friends.

“Outside of our rehearsals, my section does Zoom hangouts weekly,” Torrance said. “It’s been really good to talk to everybody.”

Despite the necessity for online learning and the opportunities for online connection, fall term posed many challenges for students. Porter admits she struggled with “not being able to have that freshman experience that I literally have dreamed about my whole life. I wanted to decorate my dorm so badly. I wanted to go to the football games.”

At the same time, these first-years are hopeful about the future, citing new skills they learned in the past months and a new appreciation for prepandemic life. All of them are excited to take classes in person, join clubs they are looking forward to and finally meet in person the people they have been interacting with online for so long.

 “I am ready to spread my wings and fly,” Porter said.

By Sophia Prince, Student Services and Enrollment Management