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The Academic Success Center (ASC) has a guide to Successful Study Groups that describes general approaches and recommendations for a great group experience. You can build on the guide’s recommendations by adding in strategies to set up a successful remote study group.
Study groups can be a great way to practice and apply concepts you’re learning in class and to build communication and collaboration skills that are important in the workplace. And study groups can happen remotely! In fact, study groups may be even more helpful when learning remotely as they create structure and routine for studying, keep you connected with other people, and provide opportunities to get questions answered—and help other students answer questions—outside of office hours.
Planning intentionally before your group meets to study can reduce communication challenges and set your group up for success. It may be helpful to have a meeting solely focused on planning before you meet to actually study together.
We recommend downloading (it's fillable) or printing this handout of questions that you and your study group can answer together during your planning meeting. This can be helpful for in-person and remote study groups! Be sure to have someone record the answers to questions as you work, so you can share the document with all study group members and reference it in the future as a reminder of your group’s purpose and expectations for working together.
First, you’ll need to find people. There are a number of ways to identify people interested in joining a study group:
Ask your instructor if they’d be willing to post an announcement or start a discussion board thread to collect names of students interested in joining a study group.
Use the Canvas message, discussion board, chat, or other collaborative tools active in your course Canvas site to invite students to join a study group.
Talk to folks before and after class - are they interested in meeting outside of class to study together?
Overwhelmed by the many eager responses to join your group? Consider identifying another student willing to set up a second group.
There are many ways to convene your study group. You might connect in person, and you might meet remotely, or you might go back and forth between remote and in-person, depending on peoples' schedules and what's going on for everyone outside of school.
For your remote options, the best approach is likely to choose a format that is easiest for all study group members to navigate and which will have the smallest learning curve. This might mean using Zoom, Google apps, Microsoft Teams, or other collaborative software that students may already have some familiarity with.
There are a lot of tools out there designed to support communication and group work (e.g., Slack, Asana, Basecamp, etc.). While these tools can be helpful, it’s important to evaluate how essential each tool is based upon the goals of your group. The learning curve, time, and energy to become familiar with new tools may not be worth it if your team is primarily engaging in activities that don't require additional technology. In addition, a steep learning curve may make some group members less likely or able to participate. If possible, limit the number of technologies group members need to access or learn to participate.
Remember: each person is learning how to interact with the study group—and, if you're meeting remotely, with the technology to do so. Be kind and generous when helping others navigate this learning curve. Pause the group if you ever need a few minutes to talk through a technological or communication process so you can figure out what works for everyone.
One of the best things you can do to ensure the time you spend with your study group is spent well is to name specific activities for each session. We’ve all been in study groups where there was no plan and conversation or distractions took center stage. You can avoid these pitfalls through planning. By naming activities that are manageable in the time you have, you can encourage the group to stay focused and meet the goals of each session.
Generally speaking, here are a few key actions to keep in mind when choosing activities:
Engage in collaborative work that might be more challenging to do on your own (e.g., after a challenging reading, plan for elaboration strategies to be sure you understand “how” and “why” behind concepts).
Plan to distribute tasks across the group (e.g., each person writes 3 sample test questions, and the group collects all questions so group members can test themselves).
Focus on active learning strategies whether you’re engaged in initial learning or in reviewing and self-testing to evaluate your knowledge.
Use technology to your advantage. Try features like whiteboards, annotation, and polling to support your process.
Check out these handouts to get your thinking started. A couple of them refer to remote study groups, but each of these carries ideas and activities that can be applied to both remote and in-person study groups too!
Interested in learning more study strategies? The article “What Works? What Doesn’t?” (2013) published in Scientific American, provides a great overview of effective study strategies based on research—as well as some common strategies that research indicated were not as effective. This research can help you make informed decisions about effective activities for study sessions.
DUNLOSKY, J., RAWSON, K., MARSH, E., NATHAN, M., & WILLINGHAM, D. (2013). WHAT WORKS, WHAT DOESN'T. Scientific American Mind, 24(4), 46-53. Retrieved April 8, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/24942480
Learning carries challenges for everyone; those challenges may become more apparent when trying to coordinate a group of different people, and they may be amplified when learning during a stressful time.
Here are some basic tenets of good humanship:
Understand that everyone has different schedules, commitments, and responsibilities.
Recognize that everyone may not be at their best, but they are trying. Life happens. It’s so happening right now. Be willing to support and encourage each other.
Listen carefully when other team members speak. Ask questions to be sure you understand what they have said.
Let each person finish their full thought. We all think, speak, and pause differently. For remote study groups, it may be helpful to develop a signal like muting a microphone when finished speaking. This can help your team avoid talking over each other.
Notice when someone hasn’t contributed in a while. Invite them into the conversation.
Be flexible and willing to collaborate when things get stressful or exams are coming up.
Acknowledge that working collaboratively can be difficult and frustrating at times; work together so everyone can have a positive experience.
Recognize when help is outside your scope of support. Encourage others to seek out resources. ASC Strategists are a great starting point, as they can help you or your team members identify and connect with OSU resources.
Many of the same recommendations and suggestions for study groups will apply when working on a group project. For example, it’s definitely important to engage in initial thinking and set-up work together on a group project—perhaps more important given you may be collaborating on work that impacts each person’s grade.
In addition to talking through topics relevant to study groups, your project group may benefit from considering additional topics like assignment requirements, group and individual deadlines, and additional roles and responsibilities.
The ASC’s packet on group projects "Teamwork Makes the Dream Work" can guide you through a process for getting to know each other, setting up a communication plan, developing shared understanding of your project, and scheduling work on a realistic timeline. It also offers strategies for working across time zones and working with attention to linguistic and cultural differences.
As you start learning with your study group, don’t be afraid to evaluate your process and make changes so the approach works for everyone. Have questions or identified a challenge you’re not sure how to overcome? Talk with an ASC Strategist for additional ideas, resources, tools, and strategies to make a successful study group!