How to Start a Club Online
Learn how to not only start an online club but also help it to thrive. Given the number of schools that are currently conducting classes online, it’s more important than ever to keep engaged and get creative in how to connect with others online.
By ALEX LOVELESS
The coronavirus has affected everything about our lives. I know we’re sick of hearing about it, but it’s true. Over the summer, all the prestigious summer research mentorship, internships, leadership camps, and entrepreneurship programs were canceled or converted to less exciting online versions. This series of events has somewhat evened the playing field for extracurricular activities, which unfortunately, has given some students an excuse to slack off. Stuck at home, students are feeling powerless, without agency or direction and combined with months of online schooling, they’re probably falling into bad habits.
As educators and as parents, we need to reshape our assumptions about extracurricular involvement. What was possible in the past may not be possible for months or years to come, and this shift to connecting with others online for work, socializing, or entertainment may become permanent. For high school students, “normal” achievement outside of the classroom needs to be redefined, and we need to try to look for new ways to create a sense of community around interests and goals. Now, more than ever, colleges will be looking at how students dealt with these monumental shifts in their education and the creativity they used to stay engaged in a post-COVID world.
Why start an online club/community
One of the largest criticisms about distance or online learning is the lack of community feeling or socializing that in-person classes engender. Yes, online platforms can be great for teaching algebra concepts like FOIL or the impact of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but it’s not as good in promoting discussion about these lessons or allowing for students to help teach each other when the teacher’s lesson is unclear.
Online clubs have long been scoffed at as glorified Facebook groups that are even more useless and shallow than those in-person school clubs that don’t accomplish anything (of which every school has many). But this perception certainly needs to change, especially when facing few alternatives for satisfying the void of discussion and socializing that distance learning creates. In this article, I’ll be spelling out, in-depth, how you can create an engaging, well-organized online community or club.
“Now, more than ever, colleges will be looking at how students dealt with these monumental shifts in their education and the creativity they used to stay engaged in a post-COVID world.”
Choosing a topic/interest to center your club on
The first big decision when starting any kind of club is to decide what your interests and goals are. Is the club focused on starting businesses and learning about entrepreneurship? Is it focused on raising awareness of a social issue? Raising money to help a particular community? Maybe you just want to start a community to talk about film and cinema? Ultimately, you want to start a community that revolves around a real interest. While you should be thinking about the practicality of your club’s focus as it relates to college admissions (looking at you, esports clubs), The Admissions Angle strategy that you choose to adopt should be based on your passions and your interests in the first place.
Younger high school students, in particular, should think less about how things will look for college and more about what interest or academic field will hold their attention for the longest time. Choosing an interest that you’re likely to stick with or likely to receive recognition for will ultimately have the most admissions value down the line, so it makes sense to allow your interests to dictate your Admissions Angle strategy.
For older students, you do want to consider more how the club synergizes with the rest of your extracurricular resume. If you’re hoping to apply for biology majors, but you don’t have any activities related to bio, it’s probably best to start an online community related to the subject. If you’re applying as a bio major and you have too many science-related activities and awards, your extracurricular profile might come off as one-dimensional. There might be more value in choosing a club revolving around a hobby or interest that’s not science related. Ultimately, students should make a conscious choice with the direction of their club as it relates to their overall admissions strategy.
If you’re creating a club/community online, you want to think about how qualified you are to lead a group of other students. Hopefully, you’re choosing a subject that you already have some expertise or experience in. If you don’t have this yet, start a blog on the subject and spend a few months learning about the topic before you start the club. There should be some online presence that you can point to in order to convince people online that you’re qualified to lead them.
After choosing the club topic, think about the name of your club. You want to consider names that are interesting and unambiguous, which can be a difficult balance to strike. Rather than “Science Club”, try to narrow down the field a little to “Astronomy/Astrophysics Club” or “Biochemistry Club”. Oftentimes, you just need to narrow down the scope of the club to make it more interesting. But be careful of getting too narrow. A club revolving around quantum physics might sound really interesting to some, but will be hard to find members for. Sometimes, the name of the club can also be related to the competition or event that the club goal is focused on, like “Bio Olympiad Club”.
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Setting tangible goals
This brings me to my next point: every club should have clear and tangible goals. Oftentimes this is a specific competition that the club is preparing for. The Diamond Challenge entrepreneurship competition, a science olympiad, USACO, or a math modeling competition. The best clubs have a clear direction from the beginning and this clarity in direction gives a real value proposition for students interested in joining. If your club is more hobby/interest focused, then your goal can be a specific project that the club strives to complete. If it’s community focused, then the goal can be fundraising numbers, hours volunteered, or a number of petitions and signatures to get. Whatever you choose to be the club’s goals, make sure that it’s clear from the start in any marketing you do to get new club members.
Choosing a platform for an online club
There are a number of online platforms that are great for starting clubs or communities. Such platforms include Edmodo, spikeview, Facebook, Reddit, or RoundPier. They all have different features or reach that make them appealing, but regardless of which platform you choose, make sure to be thinking about what type of student you hope to attract and where you might find them. Online clubs and communities will only be successful if you surround yourself with the right people, and choosing the right platform will better help you align with the right personalities.
You also should try to take advantage of video conferencing services to get some face-to-face interaction with members. While it’s not the same as actual in-person meetings, video conferencing can still help to build rapport with members and actually get to know them personally. Zoom, Google Meets, Skype and a number of other services can accomplish this without having to pay subscription costs.
Assembling your leadership team
Any entrepreneur will tell you how important it is to surround yourself with quality people. This is also true for high school clubs or just life in general. It’s impossible to accomplish anything of magnitude by yourself, so if you have ambitious goals, you’ll need help. Your leadership team should be the first people you turn to for ideas, solutions, and support throughout the difficult process of running a successful club, so you want to make sure to align yourself with the right people.
First, you’ll want to think about any friends in your current social circles who already are interested in your club topic. Starting a CS related club? Think about talking to your programmer friends. Starting an underground school literary magazine? Talk to your artistic/creative writing friends. Having at least one or two reliable friends on your leadership team can go a long way in setting a solid foundation for an online club, as online interaction with people can be a little less reliable than in-person.
If you don’t have any friends with aligned interests, you’ll want to go through a somewhat rigorous screening process when looking for student leaders to fill out your ranks. There are certain platforms that make it easier to do this than others. As mentioned before, spikeview was designed with online clubs in mind. If you find fellow students on the platform through interest groups and start chatting with some students there, it’s just one easy step to share your spikeview profile with each other and get a great look at their high school resume.
If you’re not using spikeview, other social media platforms will sometimes give you some insight into a student’s interests. If you find them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or online communities, you can usually see their post/tweet histories and determine what a user is involved in. You’ll have to dig a little deeper and through a user’s social posts or images, but look for any corroboration of interests in your club topic. After you’re confident that someone might be a good fit, contact them to ask for a resume and set up a conference call. Treat the interaction as an interview and have questions ready to ask about the students involvement and expertise. Ask specific questions about items on their resume and make sure they can explain their role in those activities.
When deciding on who to recruit for your leadership team, try to think about the roles that you hope to fill. For online clubs, it can be really useful to have someone on your team who is comfortable with technology. To properly run online meetings, you may want to use platforms like Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts for meetings. You may want to create a website for your club, so having someone who can also build web pages or is literate in HTML/CSS can be beneficial. You’ll also most likely want to recruit a student to handle the finances of the club, with some experience with accounting for an organization or with creating a balance sheet. You’ll also want a right hand man/woman who is just reliable. The COO to your CEO, who is flexible and can help with a variety of tasks. They should be someone who can just get things done.
There are a number of other roles that you can fill, depending on the scope of your club, but it’s important to think about the roles/responsibilities for your leadership team members. Later on, you’ll want to divide responsibilities between your leadership team so that you can reach for higher goals. Some of these responsibilities might include keeping meeting minutes, organizing email lists/newsletters, managing the website, outreach to other organizations, putting together Powerpoint slides, etc.
**Note: Don’t forget to explicitly mention to students that their leadership role in the online club will help with their college admissions resume.
Planning for weekly meetings
Once you get a core group of student leaders, it’s time to start preparing for club meetings and projects. The online club experience is different from in-person in that it’s harder to keep members and even leadership team members accountable. Attendance and assignments can be easy to blow off if you’re hundreds of miles away from the rest of the group. The best way to keep an online group engaged and accountable is for the leaders of the club to set a good example. This means doing your best to be consistent and accountable yourself. If you as the club leader are rescheduling meetings every week or forgetting to send out email updates, you can’t expect your club members to be accountable.
The other factor that will help students to take the online club seriously is the level of organization that you show. This involves club materials, leadership roles, expectations, preparing powerpoint slides, and sending professional emails/messages. If you put in the effort to make the club as legitimate as possible, students will resonate with that and also put in the effort.
One of the first things you can prepare is a semester-long club meeting plan, which should be a rough schedule of lecture topics, projects, speakers, competition preparation, and socializing. For lecture materials, borrow information and slides from online courses related to your course topic. For projects, think of fun, inexpensive activities that students can collaborate on virtually. This could be contributing to a blog with guest posts from club members, collaborating on building a website, organizing a literary magazine, a Github project, collecting signatures for a political/social/environmental cause, and so many other possibilities. For speakers, try to find local professionals in the field that your club revolves around: professors, business leaders, local politicians, or professionals. The more time and effort you spend in planning your club activities and weekly agendas, the more successful it will be.
On top of planning weekly agendas, you should think about putting together Powerpoint or Google slides for meetings. While video conference meetings can help with getting to know your club members, you’ll need other visual aids to teach, inform, inspire, and entertain your club mates, the last of which is often overlooked. You should always plan your club meetings with some type of fun activity, video, gifs, jokes, or memes included. You want your members to look forward to your meetings!
Now you’re ready to start your online club
As we look to the future, we see that leadership in an online setting is an increasingly valuable asset. Moreover, the ability to be adaptable in the face of unexpected disaster, such as Covid-19, demonstrates grit, flexibility, and ultimately, promise in the eyes of the admissions officer. If you take this opportunity to shine, admissions officers will take note.