5 Ways to Connect with Your Peers This Semester
Make your post-secondary experience count by meeting and engaging with your classmates.
It's a new year, and that means a new semester, new classes, and new classmates! Of course, we're still mid-pandemic, so most of us will continue learning online for the time being. This is great for sleeping in and hanging with your dog, but not so great when you're trying to meet and connect with your classmates.
Remember, post-secondary education isn't just about classes and grades. It's about expanding horizons, building relationships, and yes, even networking. Not only should you be attending classes and your instructors' office hours, you should also try to get to know other students.
So what do you do when you can't meet in the library for a study group before hitting the pub for a pint? You'll have to work a little harder, and shrug off some awkwardness, but you can do it! Check out these tips for a little help.
If your class has a discussion board, chances are good it'll start with a thread for introducing yourself and learning about others. There's no better place to start.
When posting, think of something fun and offbeat that sets you apart from others. A unique hobby or weird pet can go a long way in capturing people's attention. Hit on the usual stuff, too: why you're taking the class, your background, and so on, and don't leave out any requirements your instructor may have for your intro.
Most importantly, read others' posts, too! This might be the hardest part for some. Take some time to closely read posts from your classmates. Hopefully a few will include some interesting tidbits, just as you've done. Follow up with them! Reply to posts, react, and ask questions.
Some of us like to leave notifications unread and comments unanswered. This might be fine for your ballooning inbox, but it's no good when you're trying to build relationships with peers. So when somebody comments on your intro, get back to them!
When you're making your own comments, try to respond in a way that makes clear you've really read what's been said. (That means no "cool"s or thumbs-up emojis.) Asking questions to clarify details is a great way to stimulate a conversation and shows you've thought about what you've read.
Try not to let these new messages stagnate too long, awaiting a reply. Setting aside some time aside specifically for engaging will make this a little easier, and you can build this practice into the flow of your day.
By the way, this is good advice for Zoom discussions, too, not just text threads on Blackboard. When a classmate raises a point in class, or asks a question, don't be afraid to engage with the topic yourself. Things don't always have to be one-to-one between student and instructor. You may help stimulate an interesting discussion — or at least make your face known as someone who's engaged with the material!
Get on social
You probably won't want to do too much chatting on your classroom discussion board. Even if there's an "off-topic" section, once you've started to meet people, you may want to move to social media.
Sure, it's embarrassing to ask if you can reach out to someone on Insta or WhatsApp. Do it anyway! They can't see you blushing on their side of the screen.
Chances are good you'll develop a small cadre of classmates who are interested in networking. Focus on them, rather than chasing anyone and everyone registered in your courses. You can ask to connect with folks individually, or if you're a power player, start a Facebook group of your own. That way you can invite whomever you like by just dropping the link in chat.
Zoom isn't just for listening to lectures. Once you've built a rapport with a few classmates, why not start up a study group? Zoom is free for 40 minute video meetings (a decent length of time for a session), and having a dedicated space for getting to know the material, with others in the same boat, will help make your college or university experience feel more complete.
This used to be done in libraries and cafeterias. Now you can do it from your room! (Still, a shower would be worthwhile, especially if you're using video.)
If things go off the rails and the group starts talking about viral videos instead of viral replication, well, you might just have to go with it. Staying on topic will be more important to some than others. Your group will find a balance with practice, but it's not likely to be perfect right away. Allowing some time for decompression and breeze-shooting could help keep your study group strong.
Get offline (eventually)
It's hard to know when this will be a real possibility again — and for some, like those studying from overseas, it may never be possible — but when it's safe to do so, try to meet up with your new friends offline.
Find that old-fashioned library study room or that round table in the cafeteria. As much as we've all become online pros over the last year, there's no substitute for being with other humans, face to face. Snacking, chatting, and laughing together will help build bonds stronger than your Zoom room or discussion board can, and probably be more satisfying, too.
Good luck with your classes this semester! Happy 2021!
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