With a little help from a friend

Summer on Aalto University campus. Photo taken by Unto Rautio.

Some surveys conducted during the pandemic have highlighted the decreased social support of university students in Finland. For example, Sarasjärvi & Vuolanto (2021), who studied the well-being of 1064 university students, found that after the pandemic students ask less help from their peers and teachers than before.

To lower the threshold to ask for help and get support when studying online, three examples of peer support methods based on experiences from courses across Aalto University are presented next.

1. Study groups

Good old study groups—“Opintopiirit” in Finnish—are groups where students organize themselves into groups either spontaneously or with the help of a teacher to discuss issues or do exercises with their peers. Study groups can meet at a time and on a platform (Zoom, Teams, Whatsapp) that best suits everyone.

Sometimes, getting students to form study groups might require a little nudge. A useful technique for forming groups is MyCourses’s automatic grouping tool. Alternatively, provide useful instructions and links of collaborative services that Aalto University provides both to staff and students to help students self-organize themselves into groups.

At best, study groups create structure and provide some relief for studying online.

2. Facilitated breakout rooms

Probably everyone has an experience of Zoom’s breakout rooms—some like to call them escape rooms. Breakout rooms are probably the easiest way to organize students into groups enabling discussions with their peers since Zoom is often the place to be when attending an online lecture.

Use one-to-many breakout rooms for students to discuss their tasks and to ask questions from their peers. Create additional one-on-one breakout rooms for students who do not enjoy being in big groups where they can move to and ask for help, for example, from an assistant.

3. Study Buddy

If students enjoy studying more with a peer than in a group, let them find their study buddy from the same course. A study buddy is an alternative to study groups.

A study buddy is a peer to whom a student can send a message or call when needing advice. A study buddy can also be the person who a student works with during a lecture.

You can pair students by using MyCourses’s grouping or Zoom’s breakout function.

Tampereen yliopisto, Kiira Sarasjärvi, & Pia Vuolanto. (2021, March 19). Well-being in university students during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Finland. (Report in Finnish). Zenodo. http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4620752