Study Buddy: How to Host a Virtual Study Group

WCU Study Buddy

Online students, this one’s for you. But not just for you. In the age of online study “post-Covid” and the digital wonderland we all live in at least part-time, getting a group together often means firing up your computer (and for some of us, Ring lamp). We reside in a camera-ready-from-the-waist-up, pajamas-from-the-waist-down world. We study there, too.

On or offline, studying with your fellow students is a great way to get your material down, so we’ve got some online study group tips to help you increase the effectiveness of your study time and minimize technical hiccups. We’ll focus mostly on the online considerations here, but some tips apply to study groups both online and IRL.

(Make sure to also check out our post on the six steps for starting a study group, which is focused more on in-person study sessions.)

Here are the steps and tips for hosting your virtual study group:

Choose a Virtual Meeting App

You may already have a virtual meeting app (or two or three) installed. If you have a favorite that you know inside and out and you plan to be the study group emcee, ask your group-mates to download it. Let the group weigh in, but settle on one platform that everyone can install and get to know. Here are a few of the most commonly used apps to consider:

  • Zoom: This app is so widely adopted, it’s become a verb, like “Google.” Zoom has an intuitive interface, and odds are others already have it.
  • Google Workspace: This platform is formerly known as Google Meet and is often preferred by those already using Google for all their word processing, email, and organizational needs.
  • Microsoft Teams: Many companies use this, since they’re already using Microsoft Suite software. Only one member of the group needs to subscribe and it’ll work for all.

There are many more options. Do some research if none of the above appeal to you. Many apps have different features like breakout rooms and whiteboards that you may be interested in using. Some meeting apps are free, some are paid, and some have subscription tiers with a paywall to host longer meetings or use additional features. If you use a paid version specifically for your study group, you can consider asking everyone to chip in. Typically only the meeting host needs the paid version for the additional time to extend to all attendees.

Learn the App

Once you settle on a video conferencing app, get to know it. Take a tutorial, click through the menu, go spelunking. Do a dry run (maybe a good excuse for a video call with Mom?) to make sure you know how to use things like screen share and adding a co-host. You don’t want to have to try to figure it out on the fly in the middle of your online study session.

Ask your study group to do the same. Even if you’re hosting, give everyone the pre-homework of downloading (or updating) the app, learning the basics, and testing their camera and audio.

Pro tip: If you’re planning to share your screen, spend a little extra time on this feature to avoid an embarrassing mishap. If you don’t want your peers to see your open tabs or any other document you have open, make sure you know how to share a specific document and not your entire desktop. Or at least make a mental note to close out anything personal or sensitive before you open the meeting.

Set Up Your Space

You might already have a dedicated space in your home for video calls, but if not, put together an ergonomic area so all you need to do is log on when you’re ready. Here’s a quick list of what your space should include:

  • Wall Plug: Make sure your setup is close to a power source. Video calls drain battery, so stay plugged in to avoid a surprise shut-down or having to jump up and go plug-hunting.
  • Check Your Backdrop: Unless you’re planning to blur your background with the app, make sure there’s nothing distracting or inappropriate sharing the screen with you.
  • Find Your Light: This seems obvious, but part of the point of the video meeting is seeing each other. Make sure you have adequate light so people can make you out.
  • Interruption-Proof Your Space: If you can, find a room you can close yourself off in. Dogs, kids, and roommates wandering into frame might be delightful, but also a distraction.

The above concerns online study session setup, but feel free to also read our post with more tips on how to set up your personal study space for success.

Before Your First Study Session

We already covered the app setup, but here’s a to-do list for before your first group meeting. If you’re the group’s admin, you can take care of all of these tasks, but you can also ask people in the group to take on individual responsibilities.

  • Gather the emails of everyone in your study group.
  • Use the app to schedule the session (recurring or ad-hoc) and send invites.
  • Send out a proposed agenda at least a day in advance and invite input.
  • Ask everyone to check for application updates before the meeting to avoid login delays.
  • Disseminate any study materials everyone will be working with so others have time to download and print if they like.

Consider emailing the gang to create a thread for your group so you can easily collect requests and input about how the group will be run. Someone might have a great idea or need some kind of special accommodation. This can be an ongoing thread so you can make adjustments to your group over time.

Virtual Study Session Etiquette

Manners matter. At the beginning of your first session, set some ground rules for etiquette. In addition to the common courtesies we all know and love (be attentive, keep it civil, come prepared) there are a few additional considerations for an online meetup:

  • Cameras On: Ask everyone to keep their cameras on. We’re all “here” to interact, and seeing each other’s faces demonstrates you’re there and engaged. You can allow for members to shut off cameras in special circumstances or briefly if they need to.
  • Noises Off: Sometimes there’s background noise that can’t be helped. Kids, dogs, planes, trains, and automobiles will inevitably find their way into your study soundscape. Ask people to be mindful and mute temporarily if the noise on their end becomes intrusive.
  • Get Dressed: A study session is an informal gathering so you can keep it casual, but remember that you’re still in polite company. Our cheeky “pajamas-from-the-waist-down” comment aside, please do wear pants in case you need to stand up, and keep it appropriate from the waist up as well.
  • Minimize Cross-Talk: Live online discussions can be tricky to moderate. One good way to mitigate everyone talking over each other or having more than one conversation at a time is to limit your group size, so the conversation can be easier to control.
  • Take Turns: Depending on your session format, it might be helpful to have some structure around who talks and when. Try not to interrupt, and if you do, check yourself and shush. Some apps have a “hand raised” function that can keep the conversation moving in an orderly fashion.

The most important ground rule is also probably going to be the hardest to enforce: getting started. As people filter in to your session, they’ll start to check in and chat. We’re all friends here, so that’s okay, but put a time limit on it. Tell everyone you’ll be kicking off the first topic promptly ten minutes after the session starts. This will also help people be on time.

If it helps, set an actual timer for this. That way you don’t have to interrupt the lively conversation—you can outsource that to a digital noisemaker. When the buzzer goes off, whoever is mid-sentence can finish that sentence, and then it’s time to hit the books.

If you like, you can also leave the study group video call open for an extra half hour at the end, so anyone who wants to can stay and socialize. That way, members who would love to catch up can, and those who are just there to cram can sign off and get on with their day.

Miscellaneous Virtual Study Group Considerations

To wrap things up, here’s a grab bag of other considerations to help you create your virtual study group and keep it humming. You might come up with a few hacks of your own as well.

  • If people in your group are in different time zones, try to find a “meet in the middle” time that works for everyone, or take turns with time zones.
  • Open every meeting five minutes early. This gives you time to check your tech, get settled, and admire your own face until others join.
  • Invite the group to add questions to the chat. That way you don’t have to interrupt discussion. Monitor the chat during the meeting and before you close out, make sure everything has been addressed.
  • Also use the live chat function to send out any quick links or references for later. People can cut and paste them for their own use.
  • If it makes sense, record your study session, especially if there’s going to be discussion or exercises that might benefit a member who can’t join for whatever reason. Always ask permission before recording. (Some apps will do this for you.)
  • If you’re hosting, add a co-host when you open the meeting. This gives someone else shared control if you have to leave abruptly or have a technical snafu on your end.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of WCU’s Study Buddy series. Good luck with your group!

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.