A social adaptation game, Fast Friends, which resembles speed dating—but for making friends— has been piloted at Penn State York and will be expanded in the fall.

This project, a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) project, was conducted in sections of ESL 15 (GWS) ESL Composition for American Academic Communication, CAS 100 (GWS) Effective Speech, and ENGL 15 (GWS) Rhetoric and Composition, and involved Lion Ambassadors. It was created to help break down barriers between different groups of students and encourage a greater sense of social connectedness on campus, said Suzanne Shaffer, a Teaching and Learning with Technology instructional designer at Penn State York.

In the fall, the project will expand to the International Student Orientation, which will help international students build connections faster, Shaffer said.

“We’re a commuter campus, and we know that our students come for class and then they head out oftentimes,” said Shaffer. “Our Student Affairs are really active in trying to get students to be more involved and more connected on campus. But oftentimes, the place where we have the best opportunity for that to happen, where students can connect to each other and the faculty, is in the classroom, because that’s when we know we have them.”

The Fast Friends project was based off of research from University of California, Berkeley, where a series of students were paired with students they did not know at all, according to Shaffer. The students then asked and answered a series of questions in three rounds, which each lasted 15 minutes.

According to Shaffer, international students in instructor Sheri Yoder’s ESL 15, the ESL equivalent of instructor Ann Fetterman’s ENG 15 for non-native English speakers, were paired with traditional, English-speaking students from instructor Isaac Catt’s section of CAS 100. All students who participated were second semester first-year students.

“I knew this was effective because I watched my students engage in conversation,” said Yoder, who is also coordinator of International Student Services. “I was fascinated by their facial expressions and body language because I knew they were relaxing and having meaningful conversations after only a few minutes with a new acquaintance. Because of this, I look forward to incorporating this into our New International Student Orientation.”

“I asked students for their thoughts on the exercise in the next class period following it [the Fast Friends activity],” said Isaac Catt, instructor of Communication Arts & Sciences. “They uniformly enjoyed it and suggested that it be made a permanent part of my course in small group communication.”

Instructor of English and frequent participant in SoTL projects, Ann Fetterman, said, “Giving students, especially first-year students, the opportunity to participate in SoTL projects exposes them to the broader experience and meaning of college – namely that they are becoming part of the community of scholars, helping to seek answers to real questions that can ultimately improve their own lives.”

In the first round, students were asked general questions, such as “Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?” In the second round, questions became a little more personal. According to Shaffer, one of the questions in this round was “Is there something you have dreamed of doing for a long time, and why haven’t you done it?”

The last round, Shaffer said, was the most personal. One question was “Share a challenge you are having right now and ask your partner for advice,” along with “Describe your goals and dreams for your life.”

Before the three rounds, students were given the Inclusion of Other in the Self (IOS) scale, which was a set of 7 circles that looked at how well each student knew their partner and how connected they felt to their partner, Shaffer said.

After the activity, students were given the IOS scale again. According to Shaffer, she saw a significant change, where students felt like they really got to know their partners.

In addition to the scale, 69 students took the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ). Shaffer said SACQ is used to show how socially adjusted students were, and scores from students were compared to benchmark scores from students at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A control group of students were chosen as well, students who took the SACQ but did not participate in the Fast Friends activity.

According to Shaffer, the Lion Ambassadors who participated in the project scored well above the campus mean in social adaptation on the SACQ. Students who participated in the Fast Friends activity had slightly higher scores than the control group.

“As a campus club, the Lion Ambassadors instill a huge sense of community amongst themselves and the University,” said Leigh Ann Myers, Lion Ambassador adviser and Admissions coordinator. “As their adviser, I have the opportunity to mentor and train developmental leadership skills that provide engagement both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Shaffer said that it was no surprise then to see higher scores for the group of Lion Ambassadors in terms of social adjustment.

“The key to helping students at a commuter campus become more fully integrated socially may be to find ways for them to connect in activities or groups that are personally meaningful, over extended periods of time,” Shaffer said.

graph of student scores

Penn State York student SACQ results in comparison to students at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

The Penn State York campus ranked in only the 43rd percentile in social adjustment. This shows that there is a lot of room for growth on campus, according to Shaffer.

“One thing we see is students come in, they take their classes, they leave, and go to jobs or to other things,” Shaffer said. “Often they don’t even know each other in their classes and you [as an instructor] work really hard to try and break down those barriers and get students to talk to each other and get to know each other, but it’s hard to do that sometimes.”

After the activity and surveys, students were asked to give feedback on the Fast Friends activity. Almost 100 percent of the students surveyed agreed that they would like to see the activity offered at other events. Some students said that it was a very helpful way to get to know their classmates, while some enjoyed the activity but preferred to be asked different questions.

If all goes well with the expansion, the Fast Friends activity could be expanded into the regular new student orientation, Shaffer said. Shaffer also has plans to integrate the activity into her two sections of College Reading, which typically have about 50 first-year students altogether.

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