Online Study Groups Help University of Toronto Students Connect During COVID-19

ByMike V. Cooper

Aug 10, 2020

With in-person interactions still a challenge during COVID-19, many University of Toronto students are turning to Recognized Study Groups (RSGs) as a way to study and connect.

Created by the Student Success Team at the Office of the Registrar of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, RSGs are small study groups of three to six students from the same course who meet weekly to discuss course material. and prepare for tests and exams.

“They are able to engage in activities that help them reflect on the material on a deeper level instead of just memorizing it,” explains Marie Stefanidis, the head of RSG student success programs. “We want students to engage in more meaningful ways and think about their course content more critically. “

“Our second goal is community building. We really saw RSGs facilitate new social connections, giving students the opportunity to meet and get to know each other.

RSGs moved to an online format last semester in response to the pandemic, with all training, meetings, updates and announcements taking place in a secure private space within Quercus.

Each RSG includes a student leader who helps organize and plan weekly activities. Leaders are not tutors – they learn course material with other group members and complete a one-hour training workshop on effective learning techniques.

Leaders are supported by student staff who help the group find useful academic resources and generally support group goals.

“Many group assistants are involved in unions and course clubs focused on tutoring and life within the faculty,” Stefanidis explains. “They are the resource for leaders to navigate academic supports. “

Launched three years ago, the RSG program has grown steadily and RSGs are now available for all undergraduate arts and science courses, attracting over 2,000 students since fall 2019.

Student feedback on the program has been overwhelmingly positive. Students say home childcare providers have helped them better understand course materials and prepare for exams, while providing a welcome social outlet.

For Andy Ye, a member of New College, a third year human biology student and leader of RSG, the group helped him improve his grades as well as his leadership skills during a difficult semester.

“I did a little research on the responsibilities of leaders and decided to give it a try because I never thought I was a good leader,” he says. “To improve my leadership, the first thing I needed to do was get rid of this negative mindset. I took this as a real opportunity and showed my passion throughout this last semester.

“I am someone who enjoys studying in front of a computer. The fact that RSGs have come online in light of COVID-19 made this program even more interesting to me. “

“The opportunities to bond with other students are more important than ever as we deliver our course online,” says Liza Bolton, assistant professor, education, in the statistical sciences department. “RSGs help students create effective study groups and this is reinforced by additional supports to enhance their learning. Love that one of the activities comes in my office hour as a group.

Stefanidis also believes that online RSGs are valuable because they provide much needed structure.

“Students in general find it difficult to establish a routine for their academics,” explains Stefanidis. “And in an online environment, they have more distractions while studying [because they are] at home more often.

“With a RSG, they meet at exactly the same time, on the same day, every week. Meeting regularly helps them be more responsible because they know others depend on them to prepare for each meeting. Plus, it’s nice to just check in with the same people every week.

By going online, RSGs are now even more accessible for commuter students who would not normally be able to attend weekly meetings in person.

“Along with its convenience, our online RSG really brought us closer,” says Ye. “Of course, we weren’t sitting at the same desk in the same room, but when we were on call it was like we were linked in a way like never before.”

To join or lead a GSR for the fall semester, visit the Recognized Study Groups website. Registration for the RSGs for the fall course begins in September.