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Using Study Groups Online

In the face-to-face classroom, study groups can often form naturally. Students start talking before or after class about “getting together” to study or bump into one another studying hallways, libraries, and computer labs.prepare for an upcoming assignment or test. In some cases, we may even encourage study groups by offering them spaces to meet and class time to discuss. Some of us even may make them a formal part of the course by requiring students to meet and work in groups. These study groups help students to remain accountable to the materials, true, but more importantly, they offer students opportunities to actively engage with learning by simply having conversations and connecting personally and socially with learning. Online and remote students need these same opportunities to help them develop as learners and individuals.

So, let’s talk about how we can help students create and use study groups in our online and remote courses.

Whenever possible, I do recommend that study groups are introduced as earlier as possible in the online classroom. This could be as part of the orientation materials, but I would actually recommend mentioning it in the welcome email you send a week or so before classes start. If you are creating study groups around a specific assignment or assessment, then you just want to let students know as soon as you make the decision. Giving students a heads-up will help both them and you prepare to make the study groups successful.

When creating the groups themselves, I do recommend surveying the students to ask them about their particular study habits (when do they study, how often, what tools do they use) as well as logistics (time zones, internet access/connection). For an online or remote class, these study groups are often dictated by time zones, since that helps students to better coordinate their meet-ups. Using their responses, you can then either recommend study groups or assign them. If recommending groups, talk to each group that gets created and help them troubleshoot logistical issues. If creating them, meet with each group and do a few “getting to know each other” activities.

When it comes to helping the study groups be successful, there are a few different techniques you can use to encourage students to use them:

First, talk to them about the importance of study groups. This may seem obvious, but sometimes, the obvious is the most overlooked when it comes to teaching. Talk to them about how study groups will help them share materials, information, and study habits, and that they can also provide support, accountability, and learning.

Second, consider giving students credit for participating. Students can earn credit by meeting with their study group by swapping out a low quiz grade, adding points to their participation grade, erasing an absence, or even adding points to an exam. I use these incentives to show students that I'm serious in supporting these groups and their work in them.

Third, talk through logistics. To help students get started, we talk through a few different tools such as video conferencing tools (Zoom, MS Teams). For sharing documents and files, we talk about MS OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox. For chatting, I talk to them about GroupMe.

Finally, check-in! While I leave most of the coordination up to the students, I do require a meeting time and date and a report of what they discussed. During the semester, I'll visit each study group to see what they're up to, answer questions, give them resources, or just have a chat.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes, no matter what you do, some groups just won’t coalesce the way you hoped they would. In that case, you may want to offer students an alternative likely group office hours or a collaborative project instead.


Have you used study groups in an online course? What worked for you? What didn't?

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