This post was contributed by H880 student, Anita. As well as studying with The Open University, Anita is also a tutor on other OU modules. In this post she writes about study buddy groups from a tutor’s perspective, following on from the previous post from Anha, who would like to set up a Study Buddy group for H880 students.
My esteemed colleagues enjoy bird-watching from our ‘office’ in a leafy suburb of Cardiff. ©ANPilgrim 2018.
In campus universities, students are renowned for collecting in groups – often apparently for the purpose of consuming large quantities of alcohol. While the OU Students Association occasionally runs an online bar, this is a highly suitable venue for anyone who has given up alcohol after over-indulging at Christmas; attendance is not particularly high.
I think OU students imagine that when they sign up, all they will get is a voice like the computer on Starship Enterprise saying ‘Your studies will commence on Stardate 52264.8.’ When I phone to say, ‘Hi, I am your tutor and will be around to answer questions and support you’, there is often a short pause as the student absorbs the news that there are humans on the Mothership in Milton Keynes. (Actually most of us live elsewhere, working from our living rooms all over the United Kingdom.)
I urge my students to get together and chat about their assignments. I think they also misunderstand this, they imagine that talking about the assignment is cheating. Newsflash: cheating is emailing someone the whole written assignment, and them copying and pasting large chunks of it. (This gets picked up on the university’s plagiarism software so it isn’t worth doing. If you are struggling, you’re much better off contacting your tutor for a bit of advice and perhaps an extension – see my blogpost on extensions. (H880 students should check their Assignment Guide for information on plagiarism and cheating.)
The calculus students
A study done in the United States shows that getting together with other students is an important part of university learning, and the best means to improve your marks/grade. (Yes, better than constantly phoning your tutor.)
Treisman (1992), cited in a book by Steele (2010, pp.100-102) describes a study he undertook on young men studying calculus. One group was very similar to OU students: they came from backgrounds stereotyped as non-academic. They were extremely keen to prove themselves and would spend long hours alone poring over the books. They were anxious about asking even teaching assistants and lecturers questions, in case what they then wrote up wasn’t really their work any more. (They were from African-American families.)
Another group (white) didn’t put in much formal effort. They were known for surreptitiously drinking beer in the lectures and looking at magazines of a kind which I will not name in these august online pages. However, they would chat about their assignments casually when out in bars or cafés, and were happy to ask for advice from teaching assistants and lecturers.
A third group (Asian-American, which in the States means of Chinese and Japanese origin) would spend long hours in the library together. Their idea of a fun party was to sit round talking about the assignments, sharing their understanding and exploring their ideas about calculus.
No surprises that the third group did very well. However, you may be surprised to hear that the beer-swilling second group of students did significantly better than the first group – who tended to work much longer hours, but alone. Even chatting casually about your studies has a good impact. After studying so hard only to do worse, the few African-American students came to believe they must be bad at calculus after all and would often give up studying it.
Meeting up in the OU
If you are sitting in your living room waiting to open your module website, you may be asking: ‘Great! And how am I supposed to get from my home to the Library in Milton Keynes to chat about my assignment with other students?’
Good news! you don’t have to. A premier meeting place for OU students is tutorials. Online tutorials can be a good laugh means to gain better understanding of the assignment.
Just as we have migrated most OU study materials and exercises online, so we have set up online meeting places. One of the strengths of the FutureLearn platform is its support for conversational learning, so at any point you can share opinions, ideas and resources, or you can use your study group area to talk to others in your tutor group.
Recently I’ve encouraged my students to get together by setting up WhatsApp groups in which we share pictures of our pets in fancy dress … and remind each other of upcoming tutorial events or link to additional material we found. You can easily start a group yourself. You can ask in one of the discussions if anyone would like to join one: I do recommend 3-10 students in a group. Less than 3 means that if one drops out, it’s not really a group any more. (Tips on how to set up a group here.)
My daughter uses Instagram chats to exchange homework tips with her school friends; I’m looking into that, I’m not quite clear how it works yet. When I find out, I’ll write up about it on my blog. You could possibly use Pinterest too?
Basically, any means you have to chat with your mates is also a medium you can use to chat with study buddies.
Far from cheating, this is how academics work in the big ‘real’ academic world. We do not write our material in isolation, we get into teams. We send papers to journals who ask three or four other academics to comment on them. We have workshops at which we present our ideas and invite feedback to help us develop them better. (I recently presented in a Faculty online seminar series about using WhatsApp to support student groups.)
There are very few jobs out there which demand you work in total isolation, never communicating with colleagues – even astronauts call up Houston if they have a problem. If you apply for jobs and you add that you have managed to work in groups during your distance learning studies, showing your aptitude for teamwork as well as for working independently – this will considerably add to your employability.
And who knows. It might even be fun!
Steele, C., (2010) Whistling Vivaldi: how stereotypes affect us and what we can do. New York: W.W. Norton. [OU students can access reviews of this book via the OU Library.]
Treisman, U., (1992) Studying students studying calculus: a look at the lives of minority mathematics students in college. The College Mathematics Journal, 23(5), 362-372. [OU students can access this paper via the OU Library.]