Studying a distance learning degree can be hard. Family and friends provide a great support system but having someone to discuss with, someone who is in the exact situation that you are in, is amazing.
When I first started my BSc Politics and International Relations, I noticed that the University of London suggested that we find that study partner by setting up online study groups. I don’t think I ever realised how valuable that advice was.
In the beginning
In my first year, I started by setting up a Skype group for each module, so that’s 4 in total, and posting the link onto the VLE forums. Then I watched and waited as people started to trickle in.
It was hard in the beginning as most people were content to sit back and watch the discussion. I only found a few who were willing to discuss.
Thinking back, I think that setting these groups up for first year courses was the hardest. We were all new to the material and a lot less confident about putting our views out there. However, when I did find people who were willing to discuss issues the topics it was amazing.
Organising the discussion
- The hardest part of discussing online was dealing with different time zones. But that didn’t mean that we couldn’t find that one time when we could all be online, it just meant that we had to prioritise and plan ahead.
- We’d have a Skype call once a week, or once every two weeks, and then post comments to each other’s questions in between. That stopped it from becoming a chore.
- We’d have to set a topic to discuss so that we’d all know what to prepare for before the designated time.
- In the beginning, we’d have a broad discussion; so maybe a chapter from the study guide with the important readings and activities.
- As it got closer to the exam time, we’d decide on the topics that we all wanted to focus on and then have a discussion on them. To help with this, we’d try to agree on a past paper question or two and then everyone would bring an outline/discussion point.
Making the most of it
- What my study group and I learnt was that keeping the actual group small (so between 2 to 5 people) and then posting things on the VLE forums, so that we could get another perspective, was quite productive.
- Coming prepared to the Skype meetings was crucial. We’d usually manage to discuss for about an hour every week, and it was really important for us all to make the most of that time. If we didn’t prepare the pre-agreed topic, then we couldn’t discuss it in the depth required for a degree level course.
- We would also send our written essays to one another between sessions for feedback. It can be hard to self-evaluate so getting a second opinion before/after we had discussed a topic was always helpful.
In the end
Having a study group helped me to get through my Politics and International Relations studies. The discussions made me stretch my mind in ways that reading the material and jotting down notes, simply didn’t.
It’s hard to find people who are willing to, or have the time to, give as much as they take but once you do, the sessions can be very productive.
Iman is studying the BSc Politics and international Relations in Pakistan.