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I have been studying remotely at my university since September 2021. Each of my weekly classes on Zoom has around ten people. I always turn on my camera. But I still do not know any my classmates. Some turn on their camera, some do not. I have corresponded with nobody outside classes.

I want to get to know some of them...to see how they find our course...to study together. I am keen to audio or video chat on Zoom. Doubtless I am not going to mass email every one on the same email. But will it be kooky or stalkerish, even if I email each member of my classes SEPARATELY? Will my email appear out of the blue? And if the classmates gossip, they will know I emailed each of them SEPARATELY with the same email. This can appear as spam!

Any advice please? I plan to start emailing classmates who turn on their cameras. Turning on camera manifests extroversion and neighborliness?

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    If there's no channel for them to discuss out of class yet they can't gossip about you! Nov 30, 2021 at 22:30
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    Some food for thought: Onlien teaching has been going on for a while. Faculty and the older students will most likely have established communication channels by now. I now that at my university, there is a wealth of online tools availble to stay in touch, and many are frequently used by students. I don't know how your university is structured, and if there is a student organisation, but if there is, try to reach out to them and ask. In germany, that would be the "Fachschaft", thy are students and now their way around.
    – Polygnome
    Dec 1, 2021 at 8:13
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    I think your main error is trying to use Zoom to socialize with your classmates. Zoom is the tool used by the teacher to teach the class. I strongly suggest using another tool to socialize. Create a Discord server for your class, then mass email your fellow students so that they join the server (only for the students - don't invite the teachers). A tool like Discord is particularly good because you can structure it with several rooms and sub-rooms, both vocal and written, so that you can both talk about class, and talk about non-class-related stuff.
    – Stef
    Dec 1, 2021 at 11:26

6 Answers 6

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It is honestly really depressing and sad that so many people, including the OP and several anwers' authors themselves, are so eager to label awkward usage of Internet communication as "creepy". It could get unusual, or as I said, awkward. It definitely could give the impression of the communication's initiator being a bit socially uncallibrated. But creepy? Are you serious? A person approaching you at 2 AM, in a dark deserted alley, laughing maniacally and trying to strike up a "casual" conversation about life after death, and then asking you whether do you think that death by bleeding is painless or not: yes, that surely would be creepy. Hearing a baby's laugh at 2 AM in your home while you are living there alone would creep me out to the point of making me insane. But some friendly and polite, even if random and clunky attempt of reaching out to fellow students? Maybe cringy at most. Come on.

We are all in a strange, unprecedented situation and there hasn't really been anything on which we could base the correct etiquette of reaching out to classmates from online course. No matter how you do it, it is inevitably going to appear more or less unusual. However, that is because the situation itself is unusual. I would expect your classmates to be able to have compassion, easily empathize with you and not deem you creepy, because they are all aware of how difficult it is to socialize in current times.

Not all people will be willing to socialize, though. But that would be independent of communication attempts: even in face-to-face settings not all people are willing to socialize, and that has nothing to do with you being "creepy". It just happens.

About potential gossip: even though it can be undesirable, it is a human thing to gossip. There are not too many interesting things happening while you are sitting home on remote learning, so anything out of ordinary is a fair game to gossip about. And people who would gossip about you, your e-mails, etc. could as well end up being great friends of yours once you get to know each other a little bit better. A few times I surely have had, post factum, some of my friends from university courses admit that they had been in fact gossiping about me before we got to know each other. Their admission was a convenient ice-breaker that allowed us to be more quick in advancing from just acquintances to actual friends who routinely tease each other in a friendly and honest banter.

I would advise using e-mail instead of Zoom. E-mail is asynchronous and wouldn't apply unnecessary pressure for people to respond at instant. In my experience, lecturers frequently and habitually send the exact same e-mails to the whole aggregated groups of students (for example, students who belong to the same group). And yes, such is modus operandi of spammers. However, real, actual spammers are people/bots who abuse the e-mail system to send messages that are completely unsolicited, contain commercial advertising, non-commercial proselytizing, phishing, attempting to scam the recipient, etc. And I am 100% sure that your e-mails to your fellow students will not contain any of those.

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Why not email all of them together in one email? Considering that they are taking the same (remote) course as you, they might be sitting in the same boat (not having any contact with the other students). Something along the lines of

Hey classmates, since this is a remote course, I have not had the opportunity to get to know you in person. Would any of you be up for a (digital) meeting to discuss the course, organize study groups or similar activities?

is completely appropriate and not "spammy" at all. I would imagine that others of the group might appreciate a meet-up like this as well, but maybe they have the same reservations of just emailing everyone. Someone has to take this step, and it just as well might be you.

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    I would actually find it less creepy if it were a mass mail and more creepy if they seemed to have singled me out for some reason.
    – terdon
    Nov 30, 2021 at 18:39
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    Some people may be interested in hanging out who wouldnt be interested in talking about course material or studying. Perhaps address it directly if that's what you are actually after Dec 1, 2021 at 0:26
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    @GoodOl'SaintNick I agree; perhaps tacking another sentence on the end to still lead with the common ground of the course before suggesting the purely social
    – Chris H
    Dec 1, 2021 at 9:14
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    I've done this when I was still in school, during pre-covid, but anyway. Still have contact with some of the people who replied to the email and even go on vacations together
    – DarkBee
    Dec 1, 2021 at 11:38
  • Also: propose a method of non-email conversation for the course. I have a discord server and/or telegram group for pretty much any of my classes
    – Hobbamok
    Dec 3, 2021 at 13:55
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Your classmates who don't turn on their cameras may still be interested in making friends and discussing the course material. But perhaps they would be more comfortable doing this in a way which doesn't involve video or voice chats, so consider text-based communication options. Text-based communication also doesn't have to occur in real-time, which may make it more convenient than video calls.

I suggest you create an online group space for this (e.g. a Discord server, a Facebook group, etc.), and send one email to invite all of your classmates to join it, with some explanation of what you think it could be used for.

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    I concur about Discord and the like, I currently use it for this purpose and it works well.
    – Drake P
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:37
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    During the end of my undergrad, we had a discord server with "study hall" voice chats where people would just silently hang out and work "together" and occasionally make a few jokes. It sounds lame but actually helped greatly with morale and bonding. It wasn't much but reminded you that you weren't in it alone.
    – akozi
    Nov 30, 2021 at 19:44
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    See what uni resources you have available. I've been using MS Teams for several semesters, and a lot of my classmates are more comfortable because it seems "official" and uses our Uni accounts, rather than going to a private/personal service like FB or discord. We've setup study groups, group projects, chat/hangout spaces, etc with Teams.
    – nexus_2006
    Nov 30, 2021 at 23:26
  • I would suggest to create 2 such groups: one for jokes nd memes, second for discussions about course topics.
    – mpasko256
    Dec 1, 2021 at 9:30
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    For three semesters, we had a Discord server going with separate channels for every class. Recent graduates joined, and we had around ~40 active members by the time we graduated. Not only did this allow us to collaborate, but we could PM each other easily. Even if the Pandemic hadn't happened, I think a class-wide Discord was an amazing idea that helped everyone immensely. Dec 1, 2021 at 14:42
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Other answers have suggested a mass email. One answer suggests setting up a specific online space for this. I have seen students request GroupMe and Discord groups to communicate outside of class.

I would like to address how to communicate your new group and invite people to it. Instead of emailing everyone, here are some other ways to invite people:

  • Drop a link in the chat area of your weekly Zoom
  • If your class uses Canvas or Blackboard and has a discussion area, drop a link in a General discussion post
  • Email your professor and/or teaching assistant to ask whether they could communicate the group to make it semi-official
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    I like the last bullet especially.
    – Buffy
    Nov 30, 2021 at 20:28
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    In my experience the main social use of our official forum by our students is to share the links to join their unofficial WhatsApp group.
    – Pere
    Nov 30, 2021 at 23:43
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I would suggest a combination of the answers already given. Send a mass email as per @Sursula's suggestion, but include a link to a group that you've set up as @kaya3 and @shoover suggested. This is pro-active and it's easier for your classmates to just click a link than have to email back and forth to set something up. I also recommend cc-ing your prof/TA as they're usually very keen on this sort of thing and may even be able to promote it in your next session.

Personally, I don't agree with what you've said about turning cameras on. I'm very happy to make friends within my course, but I leave my camera off because it doesn't add anything to the lecture. So please don't take it to heart if others have their cameras off - it's generally a personal preference, and not an indication that they don't want to make friends!

Seeing as your course is so small I'm sure the others will feel the same way. It's really nice to be able to message each other about the course outside of lecture hours, and organising study sessions (even if on Zoom) is a great way to learn together. You will probably find a lot in common. If your main goal is to make friends, I would also suggest looking into the societies that your university has to offer.

PS. It's highly unlikely that they'll all get together to gossip about you - and if they do you're far better off getting on without them!

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  • Checking for other groups is a great idea. Your student union might have a list of school sponsored clubs and the like that are still meeting remotely, and "join a club" is a time honored way of making some friends at school. Dec 1, 2021 at 14:22
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It can be a bit daunting to get to know classmates in an online program. Chances are there are other students in your class that also do not know how to approach meeting students online. My experience as an online instructor has taught me that many students are incredibly ambivalent regarding reaching out to classmates and getting to know them. It is really not all that different from meeting classmates in a face to face classroom. Ask them how they are feeling about the course or mention a recent assignment and you will be connecting in no time. All of the friends that I made in my graduate ( on ground) and post graduate ( online) studies began with talking about the course work. It is a good place to start.

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