Remaining social while social distancing: UOPX launches virtual Facebook group to help students stay connected
Social distancing policies are making people feel more isolated than ever before, but a new virtual social gathering was developed by an unexpected source – a primarily online university.
To help students stay connected and avoid any unnecessary stress while socially distancing, University of Phoenix prioritized the launch of a new virtual Student Community on Facebook. The group was created in March as a place for Phoenixes to gather together, get to know one another, show support and build community. Members share wins, network, ask for advice and drop in for motivation or conversation.
For years, the University has made online networking and virtual socializing a priority, but social distancing guidelines made creating a broad University community more pressing. Alumni and campus locations across the country have their own Facebook groups, and all students are welcome to connect monthly through virtual Facebook study session events. These have helped students remain engaged while attending school online.
Amy Ortega, director of social media marketing, said the unprecedented times called for something even bigger.
“We realized students might feel more alone and stressed out than ever,” said Ortega, who had been considering starting such a group prior to the pandemic. “We decided this is the time to prioritize helping people get — and stay — connected.”
Within the first week, students demonstrated why this community was necessary. Membership ballooned to nearly 200, as word spread through the main University of Phoenix Facebook page and among those who attend the monthly Study Sessions. It became a hit for Phoenixes looking to engage with peers and classmates.
While the new community is geared toward online students — the vast majority of UOPX students attend online — any University student is welcome to join. Of course, even students who typically attend UOPX classes in person are now doing all coursework online.
Our intention is to give our students a meeting ground — a place to make connections, build community and support one another,
— Kitty Lang
Social media community manager
Kitty Lang, one of UOPX’s social media community managers and moderators, said the goal of the new community is for students to create a supportive community where they can share what’s on their minds.
“Our intention is to give UOPX online students a meeting ground — a place to make connections, build community and support one another,” she said. “We’re hoping it keeps growing from here.”
One early exchange demonstrates the positive culture already developing within the group.
When Antwan Thompson posted that he’d been accepted into the school’s Bachelor of Science in Marketing and was looking forward to an amazing experience, he was flooded with congratulatory comments and emojis from fellow students. These are the types of community-building interactions the community page is intended to promote. The University may share some relevant content in the new student community, but it’s not designed to be a marketing tool. It’s 100 percent for the students.
“This is a place for students to make their own connections, so we yield the floor to their discussions and relationship building,” Lang said.
Lang launched the group with this message: “Feel free to share best practices, find study buddies, celebrate wins, and above all — uplift one another! We’re all out here living life as Phoenixes, and we’re all in this together!”
New members were asked to post in the group, introduce themselves and their degree program and share a fun fact about themselves.
While the group is public at present, only members are able to post or respond to posts, Ortega said. When someone requests to become a member, they’re asked a few questions to verify that they’re indeed a student. The group also has certain standard posting guidelines, including protocol that members should be kind, courteous and respectful. No hate speech, bullying, promotions or spam is allowed, and members are expected to respect the privacy of others.
UOPX chose Facebook over other social media platforms because the majority of students are familiar with how it works, and wouldn’t have to learn a new tool, Ortega said. Plus, Facebook is set up for other groups that may feed into or branch out from the community page.
Ortega said she couldn’t be happier with the way the page has developed so far. The new community is giving students who might connect with each other during monthly Study Sessions a way to continue the conversation 24-7, if they choose.
“It’s cool to see the students really supporting each other,” she said.