One thing Amanda Matson noticed about Clarke University’s faculty orientation this year was the silence.

The orientation was held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the only time the Clarke mathematics professor could hear her colleagues was when it was their time to speak.

“That’s when I realized how much I was looking forward to the buzz of conversation around the room, and I thought, my students probably want that too,” Matson said.

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That realization prompted her to create a new way for students to feel connected even as they can’t see each other in class as often. She edited together recordings of students talking into 3-minute clips so that students can listen and hear the sounds they might experience if they were together in person.

“It helps them be socially connected while they’re physically distanced,” Matson said. “They need to be a part of something, and this will let them feel that way.”

Three of Matson’s classes are fully online this fall, and the other two are a mix of online and in-person learning. While her students still can see each other on video calls, they don’t get to hear the typical buzz of the classroom while learning remotely.

She reached out to students in her classes and asked them to send in audio clips of them talking about any topic. Then she edited together clips for each of her classes with the voices of students in the same class.

“It’s pretty cool,” Matson said. “If I close my eyes and I listen to it, it really feels like I’m in the classroom, and I can imagine the group of people working at different stations at whatever task I assigned them.”

William Clark, a junior studying sport management, is taking one of Matson’s online classes this fall. He said he has used the sound bite a couple of times before starting a class session to help him get in the mind-set of actually being in class.

“It still gives you the feeling that you’re still in that classroom environment,” he said. “In a way, for me, it relieves that tension of being online, not being able to fully interact with everybody.”

Matson figures students can use the audio clips while doing homework or studying for tests to help them feel connected to their classmates. Students have to find new ways to connect this fall as they adjust to being back on campus while maintaining physical distance, Matson said.

“Whenever they want to feel like they’re in a community, they can just play that sound and close their eyes and imagine,” she said.

Matson said she listens to the audio clip when she is grading or preparing for classes to remind her why she does her work. It also helps her focus on her role as a teacher in a time when she works both from home and from the office and juggles her roles as both parent and professor.

“Having an identity to say, ‘I am a mom,’ or ‘I’m your teacher,’ or ‘I’m your colleague’ helps to keep thoughts in order,” she said.