Even though the lecture halls are empty and the courtyard is quiet, students of UT Health San Antonio are still able to come together.

Just as academic curriculum has had to move online due to social distancing restrictions, student activities and engagement have also been modified to a virtual setting. Schools are getting creative and taking to social media and other online platforms to disseminate information, organize activities and create a sense of community.

Preferring social media to emails, which are often flooded with students’ academic communications, the Office of Student Life has put out many activities, tips and recommendations over the past month. Activities include movie nights, bingo and trivia, utilizing Netflix and platforms like Kahoot.

“We’re just trying to help them fill those hours that they’re not in an online instructional learning space, so that they’re not idle and have that work-life balance,” said Le’Keisha Johnson, director of the Office of Student Life.

Regular Instagram posts also contribute to a communal student experience. Uplifting quotes for “Motivational Monday” and useful tips like how to write a check for “Adulting 101” are some of the series of posts that help to promote student engagement.

“I wholeheartedly believe that through the presence of social media, we have been able to stay connected as a community,” said Jocelyn Davila, a first-year physical therapy student in the School of Health Professions. “COVID-19 is impacting all of us differently, but through these shared interactions we can have a sense of unity.”

Jocelyn Davila, a first-year physical therapy student in the School of Health Professions, participated in a “take-over” of the Office of Student Life Instagram page.

Davila was also one of many students who participated in a “take-over” of the Office of Student Life’s Instagram page. Sharing short videos of her life as a physical therapy student throughout the day, Davila was able to connect with her classmates by bringing a bit of her world into theirs.

“I love giving exposure to the physical therapy profession and the Office of Student Life because physical therapy is a passion of mine and the office is an amazing resource for all of our current and future students,” Davila said. “I also enjoy sharing what my goofy life looks like, to hopefully make someone smile or brighten up their day.”

Overall, the response to the student community efforts has been positive, Johnson said. Social media pages have seen an increase in the number of followers and likes, as well as receiving students’ requests for more activities.

As for life after COVID-19, it remains unclear to what extent these types of platforms will continue to be used.

“The nature of our students’ academic program—what they are preparing to become— requires a lot of in-person contact and connection,” Johnson said. She doesn’t see that need going away once the pandemic has ended. However, the department has learned a lot about what can be done with these tools.

“I think it will definitely transform how we as an institution will engage with the students because it’s going to give us a different modality to connect with them,” Johnson said.