Student perspective: Overcoming the trials and tribulations of the group Zoom call

Note: This post was written during the covid-19 pandemic. While university teaching is no longer 100% online, online learning is here to stay… whether in the form of online lectures or simply a quick Teams/ Zoom/ Skype call with your project group. So we think this blog post is just as relevant as ever! Now read on…

by Beth Robinson, Bristol Futures Advocate

‘Group work’ gets mixed reviews at the best of times, let alone when everyone’s internet connection keeps dropping and the speakers aren’t working properlyFor the most part, I’m really enjoying online meetings. But whether it be with a project supervisor, as part of a study group or yet another virtual quiz, something’s bound to go wrong at some point. In an academic sense, I’ve noticed that it can be hard to make online calls as productive as they could be. These are solutions others and I have found to the trials and tribulations of group Zoom (/Skype) calls.

When meetings are unproductive 

We’ve all been there. The calls where you speak for an hour or two without actually getting anywhere. So, ahead of group study or even 1:1 calls, make sure you set a clear agenda. Perhaps working on setting goals and/or time slots of exactly what you want to cover and when may work. Or, if you are not able to do this (or indeed don’t feel comfortable doing so), work out what it is you personally want to get out of the meeting. Because, no matter how unproductive a meeting may feel, it’s likely you’ll be able to find something valuable in it. For example, being able to empathise with what someone else is experiencing or thinking about any next steps you can take with respect to your personal development.  (One useful tool to help with PDP can be found here)

When the WiFi/video/microphones are being temperamental 

If quitting and rejoining doesn’t work, the student laptop and phone clinic at the University of Bristol is still running, so if you are having tech or connectivity problems then be sure to reach out to them. If you have very limited access to internet more generally, don’t be afraid to contact a unit or programme director – in such difficult times I doubt they’d want to see you experience an unfair disadvantage. 

When it’s hard to find the right space  

It can be difficult to find the right environment to be on a group call, especially if you’re somewhere with no desk and/or a house full of people. That being said, I’ve seen some great creative solutions out there! Pinterest has lots of cool ideas – for example ways to get creative with tabletop spaces if you don’t have a desk, and interesting lighting and sound solutions. Depending on the nature of the call, adding a green-screen background on Zoom or going around the group and sharing a ‘unique item’ from where you are living can be a nice icebreaker! 

Hope you’re all keeping safe and well, especially as we move forwards into exams! What have been your biggest annoyances and solutions to group video calls?