The prolonged virtual disconnect

How the lack of communication, connection and collaboration has affected students

Leslie Farrera-Perez, Reporter

We’re still learning virtually during a pandemic that has lasted almost a year. Many students have a more challenging time communicating, connecting and collaborating with professors and classmates beyond the virtual barrier.

For instance, senior Julia Peterson, a history and biology double major, believes that having an inclusive discussion and getting help online is difficult. 

“It can often be frustrating if you need help with something, but you’re in a call of 20 people, and other people are talking,” Peterson said. “My history major is a bit easier. It was fairly easy to switch to online class discussions on topics rather than doing it in person. Biology can be a bit tougher, especially if you’re trying to work through a lab at home and you can’t just call a professor over to help.” 

Junior and theatre major Ajah Williams says that trying to communicate with some professors has been difficult.

“One of my professors just does not answer their emails, and the others intermittently do so. I only have one professor who is super personable,” Williams said.

For Williams, virtual learning has also strained collaboration in her classes.

“It is hard to understand body language or voice inflections with technological issues such as freezing or choppy voices to read into what is really going on. For theatre, it is much more difficult. Last semester, I was in a hybrid dance class, and it was just difficult to only be moving 

with my peers once a week, and distanced at that. Theatre is a very collaborative field, and virtual learning and creating online artwork is much more difficult,” Williams said.

In addition, students like senior theatre and digital media arts major Ian Olson feel the lack of motivation brought by online affects their learning.

“Being virtual has made learning difficult in the aspect that motivation is at an all-time low. Something just feels less involved, which could just be because I don’t get to move as much because I spend hours just sitting on the computer staring at a screen with people’s faces virtually plastered on,” Olson said.

Last semester, it was apparent some classes are more challenging to teach online. Even now, communication, connection and collaboration within those classes are not at their prime.


Communication and Media Studies Professor Suda Ishida decided to let public speaking students choose if they wanted to give their speeches in person.

“Last semester, when we went online for our public speaking classes, although all of my students did their best to deliver their speeches, it appeared to be difficult for them to adjust lighting and background noise, as well as maintaining eye contact, good posture and using hand gestures,” Ishida said. “I believe that in-person classes help people learn to build interpersonal connections and allow them to interact with their peers and professors more effectively than online classes. Digital detachment and digital disconnection can affect the quality of interpersonal relationships. Media and technology are tools, but they can be a double-edged sword. Some can excel, the others will not. Overall, we are human beings, not machines.”

Ishida believes that interaction and quality of discussions between students are limited online.

“Not being able to interact with their audience in person deprives students of the opportunities to enhance their learning experiences in communication,” Ishida said. “It’s much harder to talk with students in virtual classes [versus] in person. Many students aren’t able to have as high-quality discussions online [versus] in class, in my opinion.”

Similarly, Music Professor George Chu understands the limitations of communication, connection and collaboration in the music department during this time. 

“Because of limited in-person contact, we don’t have as full an experience as we used to in this small university that prides itself on interpersonal connections and small classes,” Chu said. “Not being able to share our collective efforts with live audiences also affects all of us. We yearn for the day to again connect through live music with our friends, colleagues, family and the greater Hamline community.”

A common theme among students is the need to be more engaged in their virtual classes to feel more connected.

“I think something professors can do is keep things interactive for their students, so that class is close to as engaging as it is in person. It can be difficult, especially with larger classes, but it helps students connect better with the content and their peers,” Peterson said.