As the analog world quickly fades into the history books, it is probably time to rethink the concept of the “study group.” (We have talked before about how to decide if you should join a study group, why you should be careful about relying on study groups, and common myths about study groups.) Today, there are so many digital tools available to enhance the traditional study group, that it might be a good idea to take it one step further, and create a wholly virtual study group.
Taking Your Study Group to the Cloud
For many students, a traditional study group with regular, in-person meetings at the law school library just won’t fit into their lives. Part-time students with full-time jobs, students with children, and other non-traditional students often do most of their law school work at odd hours when they can fit it in to their schedule. Other students are commuting from far away and can’t spend a lot of time on campus. Traditional study groups also may not be accessible to some students with disabilities, whether the locations are inaccessible, or the students need to access materials in a different way than their peers. A virtual study group could solve a lot of these problems!
A virtual study group could exist in the cloud entirely: instead of shuffling papers and emailing documents to each other, each member could upload files to a cloud storage option, group members could contribute to shared spreadsheets and outlines, and members could create visual study aids for presentations. The group could even have a shared online calendar where they manage deadlines and meetings that are accessible to everyone in the group.
Although I may be outing myself as an “Older Millenial,” I was alive in the days before ubiquitous email, text messages, and even voicemail. Today, one of the biggest advantages is how many ways we have to communicate and how accessible they are. With chat tools like Slack, for example, you can read your messages when it’s convenient for you, search your past messages, and include media to illustrate your points.
Instead of having real-time meetings that require everyone be on the same schedule, virtual groups could use digital tools to chat, leave messages, comments and changes on documents, and stay on top of everyone’s progress. Accountability is one of the greatest benefits of a study group, so having the ability to share that burden, even if you physically can’t get together, could be a huge advantage of this method.
If you and your classmates still want to talk every week, or simply have a few check-ins throughout the semester, you can use video chat tools like Skype or Google Hangouts to create a group video chat. If you want to take it up a notch, there are programs specifically created to host virtual meetings (most of which have a free version!), that allow you to use tools like screen sharing, viewing documents alongside the chat, and even recording the meetings for people who can’t make it. If there’s a particularly tech-savvy member of your potential study group, you could have them take the lead on choosing and setting up your virtual meetings, but none of these options are complicated or difficult to navigate (even for us older millenials!).
Will it Work for You?
Just like in a regular study group, you will have to evaluate whether your virtual study group is serving its ultimate purposes: providing social support, helping you work through novel concepts, having social support and friends who can help you with notes if you miss class, and giving you accountability as you prepare for your exams. Law school semesters are short and there is a lot to do, so if your study group, virtual or not, isn’t serving its purpose, then it’s probably time to rethink it.
You may question whether a virtual study group can provide the same built-in social benefits as an in-person group, and that’s a really good question. Making friends with your classmates is one of the keys to making it through law school in a healthy way. As an attorney who has worked mostly remotely for several years, I can personally attest that you can successfully build camaraderie and friendship across the digital world – but it does sometimes take more effort! That said, if you’re a non-traditional student, someone who simply prefers to work on your own timetable, or if you otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit a traditional study group into your life, I think a virtual study group could provide the opportunity to make friends and allies in your class, even if you rarely meet up outside the cloud!
What do you think? Have you ever started a virtual study group? Tell us about it!
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