With the majority of classes having been switched from in-person to online this year, it can be quite a challenge adjusting to the new virtual setting. Although this relocation provides many benefits, like saving money on transportation to get to campus or dorm and housing fees, online classes make it harder for us to meet people, make friends and network with others. This past summer semester, I was enrolled in two courses, and taking them online this time was a new experience for me. I decided that I should probably join a couple of Facebook groups and WhatsApp as well as Messenger group chats for my courses so that I could mingle with others in my classes. I initially looked into joining these group chats because I was looking for a space where I could ask any questions about the course before I contacted my professor. To me, it seemed like a good idea to get involved and connect with my peers online to share ideas, give and also receive assistance, much like I would in my in-person classes on campus. However, in my experience with course group chats, I found that not everyone had the same idea about these spaces or the same intention with joining said group chats. Here, I will share a guide on where to find group chats for your online classes, how to find the one that best suits your needs, and a bit of group chat etiquette to help you get the best out of your online schooling experience.
- Check out the Forums or Discussion boards on eClass
Through eClass (previously Moodle) where you will be able to access your courses this year, each course page usually has a forum or discussion board where professors and students can create new posts for any announcements, questions, or discussions they’d like to start.
Here, there are typically a few students who create posts either asking if there are any “private” group chats they can join (meaning, not through eClass where activity can be monitored by professors and teaching assistants), or sharing WhatsApp or Facebook/Messenger group chat information for those who are interested in joining. If you are looking for these course group chats, some students post the same information on various popular Facebook groups (ex.: book exchange or “bird” course groups), but I suggest checking out your course’s eClass page first for more refined and relevant results.
- Be cautious of the type of group chat you’re in
Some group chats are composed of students who are only looking to share and receive answers from others for the course’s assignments, tests, and exams. Of course, this type of collaboration goes against York University’s Senate Policy on Academic Honesty so it would be wise to avoid any involvement in this type of activity that could negatively affect your completion of the course or degree progress.
To spot this type of group chat, you would first have to be added to it or join it yourself. These group chats will not be advertised as or named “Sharing answers for NATS 1000” so it is important to catch yourself up on the previous chat history (if it’s available) and read through the interactions between members. If you notice through the group chat’s messages that members are sharing test/exam answers with one another, leave the group immediately. You do not need to explain why you’re suddenly leaving the chat, but it’s best to separate yourself from the situation as soon as possible.
Finding the right group chat of students who, like you, are looking for genuine and acceptable assistance from their peers (ex.: clarification on the theme of a reading or a confirmation on due dates) is going to take a bit of trial and error. You probably won’t find this group on your first try and definitely not within the first few weeks after classes start. But keep in mind that these group chats can be very helpful and can provide you with the opportunity to network with others.
- Steer clear from group chats with too many members
How much is “too much?” Well, the number can range from 10 to 50+ but the main thing to keep in mind is how many messages you get and how often. The last thing anyone wants is for their phone to vibrate non-stop from the countless notifications of messages from one group chat. Not only do you feel the need to go through all the messages (out of fear that you might actually miss something important), but what’s even more frustrating is getting caught up with all of the messages and realizing that it was just a handful of people having a conversation about something unrelated to the course.
As mentioned earlier, not everyone has the same intention when joining group chats for online courses. Some join to share or receive answers, some join looking for people to bounce ideas off of and some join genuinely looking to make new friends. In group chats with many members, you will most likely come across these various types of people. This might lead some members to form smaller groups consisting of others who have the same motives and interests as them. Here is where you may be able to find, or start yourself, a more refined group of individuals who are looking for genuine assistance and to stay on topic.
In my experience this past summer term, I found that the group chat I was in that was the most successful in staying on topic was one that had about 10 people in it which I found through a post on the Discussions Board of my course’s Moodle (now eClass) page. In this group, one member shared with the rest of the group that they were included in another group chat for the course which had about 50 people in it. I joined that group as well but left shortly after as I was immediately bombarded with irrelevant messages within the first hour I joined.
- Keep up and keep it relevant
A couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to group chat etiquette is keeping up with the messages and making sure the information shared in the chat is relevant to the course. When I was discussing with a fellow student from a group chat for a course we both took this past summer, they shared with me how frustrating it was for them to check their phone after work and see 100+ messages from our course group chat of over 50 people. The majority of these messages would usually be a part of a conversation between a few members discussing information irrelevant to the course.
This is why it is important to find a smaller group of members who are focused on the same things you are. And once you do find that group, make sure to keep up with all of the messages and information being shared when you can, to avoid a plethora of notifications (even if they are helpful and relevant messages) and to make sure you aren’t missing any opportunities to help others.
Of course, off-topic conversations may arise naturally, and that’s perfectly fine! However, it’s important to be considerate of the other members in the group chat who may not wish to be a part of any off-topic conversations. If you do find yourself engaged in an off-topic conversation with other members, create a separate group chat between you and them where you can freely discuss the latest season of Grey’s Anatomy or your favorite sushi restaurants in Toronto.
In one of the group chats I was in this summer, I witnessed one person advertising their small business, one person trying to sell and talk about bitcoins, and another looking to recruit people for their pyramid scheme. It is understandable that group chats might seem like the best way to reach many people especially with classes now taking place online limiting the opportunities for people to network and promote their individual interests, however, please be considerate of the main function and reason of these course-related group chats. Do not let group chats, which were originally created to be about your online classes, become a hub for everything but your course because chances are, a lot of members in that group chat did not sign up to buy your bitcoins.
- Group chat alternative
Although they aren’t exactly live group chats, eClass discussion boards and forums are your safest bet for communicating with other students in an academically honest manner. The course eClass page and all activity on it is typically monitored by professors and teaching assistants. So if you’re worried about potentially getting involved in an academically dishonest group chat or if you want to keep it minimal and are not interested in joining a group chat at all, communicating with other students in your classes through eClass would be the best option for you.
I found in my experience that a fair amount of students engaged in discussion posts and forums posted by other students. These posts ranged from announcements about private group chats to questions related directly to the course. This is also a good option for those of you who prefer to work independently but occasionally need a second opinion or clarification on the course material.