Getting to know each other (from a distance)

How can we organise making acquaintances in a new online course? Hetty Grunefeld shares her experiences.

The sense of belonging to a group is important for social and academic integration. Being a member of a small group of students who know each other well, will help to overcome difficulties, and to persevere in the course.

In period 3, we had the great advantage that students had already met each other face-to-face when we suddenly had to move all teaching online. It was fairly easy for them to contact each other for the teamwork we asked them to do during the course. The same goes for us teachers, because we already knew our students.

So how can we do this in the next teaching period? One thing is certain: do not skip it! Get people talking to each other, about the course and about personal things.

What I like best is designing activities that are linked to the content of the course, the learning objectives, or to the ways of working in the course. For example:

  • Make groups for break-out tasks and homework group tasks, e.g. through channels in Teams. You could assign students to each channel, or leave it open. Students will find each other.
  • Ask students – as first question in the group task – to also share what they did just before the group work started, and how they feel about it (happy, satisfied, angry etc). Stimulate to ask why, what happened. It helps making the transition to focussing on the work of the group.
  • Ask students to not only discuss the task, but also their personal reaction to the task – what do you like about this task, and why?

If you would like students to form their own groups, for example for larger tasks such as bachelor thesis work, more is needed. The process of finding group mates needs a few rounds of exchanging ideas about interpretation of the task, wishes, what each student would like to learn from the task, qualities they bring to the group, and other expectations.