Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Last year a self-confessed shy student came to my office in search of a study partner. She wanted to form a study group, but was uncomfortable soliciting classmates to join her group. She asked me if anyone else had inquired about the same thing, and if so, would I please put them in contact with her. Her request sparked an idea: an ASP-coordinated study group matchmaking service. Now in its second year, the Study Group Matchmaking Service has been a hit with first-year students. The service aids students in identifying other classmates who share their same learning preferences and study schedules. The service also provides a proposed structure for the study groups, with recommended meeting times, a pre-identified group leader, and suggested activities tied to the group's expressed learning preferences. For anyone who is interested in trying out the service at their school, here is a "How To."
Step One: Create a Survey Form
I start by creating a short, online questionnaire (using Qualtrics, which is similar to Survey Monkey). The 7-question survey asks:
- What's your name?
- Which professors do you have this semester? (check all the boxes that apply)
- Rank your VARK learning styles from most preferred (1) to least preferred (5).
- Would you describe yourself as an extrovert or introvert?
- Do you prefer to lead a group meeting or simply attend the meeting?
- When do you prefer to study: early morning, right before class (7-9am); midday, between classes and on the lunch break; afternoon, right after classes (4-6pm); evening (6-9pm); or late night (after 9pm)?
- Is there anything else you think Professor Trychta should know?
The online form allows me to download the responses into an Excel spreadsheet and then electronically sort answers to select questions, which helps in the matchmaking process. If your school uses the StrengthsQuest program or a Myers-Briggs personality inventory during Orientation, you may want to incorporate that information into your intake survey as well.
Step Two: Announce the Service
In mid-September, I send out an email describing the Study Group Matchmaking Service. I also post the same information to Facebook and TWEN. The email reads:
Are you interested in joining a (new) study group? The Academic Excellence Center seeks to group interested first-year students together into highly effective study groups. The benefits of an AEP study group—as opposed to your “friends group”—are many:
- Membership to the group will be based on your individual learning preferences (visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic), introvert/extrovert status, and other academic variables. If you don’t know your learning preference, click here to find out.
- Members will agree to a set of rules and standards to ensure that the group functions optimally.
- Each group will be limited to 2-4 individuals.
- Prof. Trychta and the Dean’s Fellows will be available to assist the AEP study groups with room reservations, locating practice problems, identifying ideal study strategies, and resolving disputes.
The other benefits of any study group include sharing case briefs, reviewing class notes, preparing group outlines, and, most importantly: group problem solving. If interested in being matched with a few like-minded classmates, complete this 7-question intake questionnaire (hyperlinked in original) by [next Thursday]. I’ll send out group announcements on [Friday morning], and you can plan to meet your new study group for a quick “hello” at 1:00 p.m. after Torts.
Step Three: Form the Groups
After the students complete the survey, I use the Excel document to look for patterns in their responses. I start by sorting the students based on their professors. Next I look for self-confessed group leaders and try to assign one leader to each potential group. Along those same lines, I try not to put two leaders in the same group, to minimize the opportunity for conflict. Then I break these groups into smaller subgroups based on learning preferences and desired study schedules. I am also mindful not to stick an introvert in a group with three extroverts, or vice versa. This process goes relatively smoothly for most of the students. However, the last few students can prove hard to place, especially if no one else shares a particular student's same preferences. For the handful of hard-to-place students, I reach out to them individually. I tell them honestly that I'm having difficulty placing them in a group because of X reason, and ask them how important that particular preference is to them. I also tell them about the next-best-fit group and ask if they would be interested in that group instead. For example: "Dear Lynn, I think the group mentioned below would be a good fit for you, except that they want to meet in the morning. Otherwise, everything else checks out. Would you be interested in joining an AM study group?--Prof." After everyone is assigned, I schedule a speed date.
Step Four: Schedule a Speed Date
The next step in the process is to introduce the group members to each other. I begin the process with an email, detailing the results and next steps:
Thank you for signing up for an AEP study group. This year, we had 25 people request a partner. Each partnership or group should be between 2-4 members. Less than 2 is not a group, and more than 4 is unwieldy. The members of your proposed partnership or group are: H.R. and A.A.
I tried to group students together based on their expressed learning preferences, class schedules, and personalities. You each have Professors Trychta, Cady, & Rhee, are available to study in the early mornings, prefer read/write and kinesthetic techniques, while disfavoring aural learning techniques. On paper, you’re a great fit. (FYI – There are two other Trychta-Cady-Rhee groups: (1) M.D. & T.G. and (2) A.L., B.D. & M.H. You may find it helpful to collaborate with them periodically.)
Signing-up for the matchmaking service does not mean that you must join the group. Instead, you should plan to meet briefly in the lobby [on Friday] after Torts class to introduce yourselves and discuss the goals of the group. Treat this initial meeting much like a first date. If you opt to join the group, then you should promise to commit to the group for the rest of the semester. If the members of your group can’t reach a consensus about some aspect of the study group’s objectives or rules, let me know. Perhaps I can reassign some of the members or suggest a compromise.
The most effective study groups are those that have clearly defined objectives and rules. For example, the purpose of your group may be to (a) outline or (b) discuss hypotheticals. The group should discuss the options, and then make a conscious decision based on what the members hope to get out of the group study experience. To aid you in determining the group’s rules, I’ve attached a sample “contract.” Feel free to use, modify, or ignore the sample contract, as your group sees fit.
Obviously, you may choose to run your group however you decide. But I note that group problem solving works most effectively when the members of the group (1) ask someone to introduce a specific problem or issue, (2) appoint a scrivener and a leader, (3) identify all the potential issues, but not the solutions (4) then discuss all the possible answers, (5) consult resources for additional help, and finally (6) organize and summarize what you learned.
Moving forward, your group may reserve law school classrooms and conference rooms for study sessions by making a request at the Student Services front desk. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
As mentioned above, I attach a sample study group contract to the email. You can Download Study Group Contract using the interactive link. I'm quite confident that I stole this contract idea from someone on a blog or listserv several years ago, but I cannot remember who drafted it. If you're the original author, please feel free to reach out to me and I will happily give you a proper attribution credit.
Step Five: Stay Out of The Way
Lastly, I make myself available in my office during the meet-n-greet hour, but I do not affirmatively attend the event. Once I have identified and disclosed a potential group match, I stay out of the way unless specifically asked by students to intervene. While I actively oversee the Dean's Fellows study groups, I assert no ownership or responsibility over these Matchmaking Groups. Rather my job is to simply facilitate an introduction. With little oversight, admittedly, not every group will work out, but a few do. In fact, I still see one group from Fall 2016 meeting regularly in the lobby as second-year students. And, that alone is enough motivation for me to continue the service. (Kirsha Trychta)