Suggestions for Holding a Virtual Writing/Learning/Study Group

A policy of “social distancing” may be beneficial and necessary for maintaining our physical health amidst a pandemic, but it can lead to feelings of isolation. After all, feeling connected to other people has been shown to increase our motivation and productivity. One way to counter our increased isolation is to create virtual groups to study, work together to learn new material, share feedback on writing, and/or share goals and challenges with each other to maintain our motivation. Here are some suggestions for starting a virtual group with your peers.

First, you might think about what kind of group would be most helpful for you. Here are some different approaches that groups can take:

  • A group can offer shared but quiet work time over an online platform. This might be helpful, for instance, if you tend to work individually but with a group of friends in a study hall or the library, or if you have found programs such as the Graduate Writing Days or Writing Fridays helpful. This gives you the motivation to create quiet time to do your own work alongside others.
  • A group can offer regular check-ins and accountability—to maintain a schedule when normal structures are no longer present, and to give a clear sense of goals that others are holding you to. Accountability groups or partners can also encourage you to set realistic and manageable goals, since you have a chance to process and get feedback on your goals.

  • A group can offer specific feedback on work you’ve produced and drafts you’ve written as well as a chance to brainstorm ideas, structures, and approaches to a problem and learn from how others have approached similar problems.

  • A group can be a place for brief guided practices of wellness and mindfulness to create feelings of social connectedness and friendly support.

Reach out to friends, peers, colleagues, or acquaintances to see if others would like to join a group: chances are, they will welcome the chance to connect in this time of social distancing. Your department listserve, Facebook and other forms of social media, targeted emails are all good options for assessing interest.

How big will your group be? (We’d suggest a maximum of four or five members to keep it manageable and so that everyone can have time to share each week, if that is part of the group’s structure.)

 

Tips for the first meeting:

 We recommend that you spend the first meeting discussing goals and expectations for the group.

  • What will you cover at each group, and how will it be structured? (will there be time to socialize? To share goals/accountability before launching into silent work or offering feedback? How much time will be allocated for each activity?)
  • It can be helpful to have a facilitator:
    • A facilitator keep tracks of the time and makes sure everyone’s time is being respected—stick to the timing you have discussed.
    • A facilitator also creates the digital meeting space and invites members of the group to participate (see below)
    •  Will you have one facilitator? Or rotate leaders?
  • What are each of your goals for the group, both collectively and individually? How do you hope to grow through the group, and how can the group best serve you? If you are offering feedback to each other, what sort of feedback would be most useful?
  • What kind of preparation (if any) will you expect of each other?
  • Other expectations that we’ve found are helpful to establish:
    • Group members agree to attend all meetings
    • Focus exclusively on the meeting at hand and set up in a place without external distractions
    • Use video (this contributes to the feeling of social connectedness)

Members commit to taking the group seriously and doing their best to make it work—it can be disorienting and hard for the group for members to drop out.

 

Tips for Setting up Groups Virtually:

  • Princeton university has a Zoom account that you can access to set up group meetings.
    • To create a Zoom meeting, go to princeton.zoom.us.
    • Click “Sign in” to configure an account.
    • You can then schedule a meeting, which will generate a link that you can send out to your participants to join.
    • To access your scheduled meetings, go to Princeton.zoom.us/meeting and log in with your university credentials.
    • Zoom has helpful support videos for further tips on getting started.
  • Another option is to use Google hangout (no subscription needed): To organize a Google Hangout, you need to use a browser (we recommend Chrome) and a Gmail account. 
    • Go to Google Hangouts, log in with your Gmail account. If you use your PU account you will run into problems. 
    • You’ll see the video call button. Click to start the call. 
    • This opens a new window with a prompt Invite people in a dialogue box. Click on the copy link to share. 
    • Paste this link and email it to the group participants.
    • Troubleshooting
      • Try changing your browser (Chrome seems the most reliable)
      • Try rebooting your computer
      • Try installing browser plug-ins to make the Hangout work