During a normal semester at Penn, Locust Walk teems with students, generating content for posts on the popular "Overheard at Penn" Facebook page. When COVID-19 placed restrictions on in-person activities and forced Penn to send students home in the spring, posts on the page sharply declined, according to an analysis by The Daily Pennsylvanian Analytics Team.
The page serves as a community of almost 9,300 members who post and view the "weird/funny/quintessentially Penn things" that students overhear on campus. It was renamed to "Overheard on Zoom (Penn Edition)" in March after the University moved all classes online for the spring semester.
The Analytics Team analyzed all 431 “overheard” posts from January to November of 2020 to identify how the page was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The average post is 19 words long, receives 93 likes, and generates 15 comments.
The month with the most "overheard" posts was February, followed by January, and then March. The first case of COVID-19 was identified in the United States in January, and the first case of local transmission was suspected in late February.
Penn announced that campus would be closed for the remainder of the spring semester in mid-March while students were on spring break. By April, most students had returned home and online instruction was in full swing.
The number of posts on the page remained low throughout the remainder of the year, with a fall semester high in September.
"Overheard at Penn" page administrator and College senior Karthik Tadepalli attributed the decrease in posting to a lack of shared experiences among students while they haven't been on campus.
"People have other things on their mind," Tadepalli said.
The most common words in "overheard" posts — apart from "Penn" and "overheard" — were "person," "student," and "professor." The most common adjective was "good." Common words such as "the" and "or" were filtered out.
The following word cloud includes the most common words in "overheard" posts from January to November 2020.
The following word cloud features only the most common adjectives.
There were slight variations between word frequencies before and after the onset of the pandemic. In the first three months of the year, the most common words on the page were "student" and "person." After classes moved online, the most common words became "professor" and "Zoom."
"[During the pandemic] there [are] fewer aspects of life to talk about. Previously, you could joke about preprofessional culture, about frats, about 'memey' professors," Tadepalli said. "Now you just have gripes about Zoom, which are definitely relatable but only one thing."
The positivity score of the average “overheard” post is 0.089 on a scale of zero to one, where zero is neutral and one is the most positive. Posts on the page were less positive in the early stages of the pandemic than they have been most recently. To determine the positivity of posts, the Analytics Team performed a sentiment analysis on the data, assigning text a numerical score that reflects its “positivity." Higher scores indicate greater positivity.
There is a slight positive correlation between positivity scores and the number of likes a post generates — the more positive a post, the more likes it generally receives. There is no correlation between positivity scores and number of comments.
Tadepalli said he does not expect activity on the page to increase significantly during the spring semester, even though many students are expected to return to campus.
"What normally causes new life is when new freshmen join the group," Tadepalli said. "So these cycles require some external shock to change, which won't really happen next semester."
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