Maintaining group cohesion and friendships during on-line learning

Distance or hybrid learning can create a lack of group cohesion and a feeling of isolation in some learners. Here is one way we tried to overcome these issues in block taught apprenticeship programmes.

What did you do? Why did you do it?

At the start of each taught block, a Teams ‘Welcome Back’ meeting was scheduled. This included all students and all tutors.

This structured time provides the opportunity to discuss what teaching sessions and resources are available for this taught week.

More importantly, it allows time to share their experiences of how they are feeling, any issues they are facing (access to IT etc.) and, especially given the current additional stresses, to offer personal tutorials or pastoral support to students.

Many students who are not seen face to face on Campus feel they cannot contact tutors when not formally taught, therefore small issues can become more problematic and require more intensive intervention. If addressed early they can be managed promptly.

Students we have used these meeting with are from established groups so ice-breakers are not needed, however, if this was used with a new group I would use ice-breakers that have been used in face to face sessions successfully ( what is your favourite food, what are you looking forward to on your University course).

As part of each session, we address any issues around Mental Health and reiterate support services that are available within the University. It is emphasised that any student who would like to contact any member of the programme team after the meeting to discuss any sensitive issues can.

What was the impact of your practice and how have you evaluated it?

Students feel part of a group. They can share experiences from their workplace and sometimes just have a moan in a safe space.

They realise they are not on their own. They recognise we can help and support them.

Student feedback has been positive, they welcome the opportunity to see everyone and to share and to listen to others experiences since they last met. Some quieter students are happy to listen rather than contribute but often the questions asked are things they wanted to know.

How could others benefit from this example?

By timetabling a similar session group dynamics and cohesion can be promoted. Academic and personal problems can be addressed at an early stage.

By Amanda Driffield a.j.driffield@leeds.ac.uk   Healthcare apprenticeships. Lifelong Learning Centre.