1. The introduction week is crucial
During the conversations with students, one thing became very clear: the introduction week is crucial for bonding. How this is organized differs greatly among studies. By hearing each other's experiences, the VU students came to a consensus on what an optimal introduction week looks like.
Let study associations organize the introduction week
Students themselves know best what they experience as fun activities. They know what they like best, what is most popular, and how best to reach students. So, as a study, work together with the study associations in organizing the introduction week. This also has other advantages:
- Students get to know the study association in a positive and accessible way right at the start of their studies. The chance that they will become an active member of the study association is much greater. This benefits the bond between the study and fellow students.
- Students immediately get to know almost all of the fellow students in the introduction week. Many universities have an introduction week where students are mixed with others from the entire university, not specifically from their own subect field. These friendships often fade quickly and students then only get to know their fellow students during the first class or during a much shorter introduction. To really create optimal bonds, it's best to mix students of the same study field during the introduction week. They will keep seeing each other throughout their studies, so the strongest connection is preferable with them.
- Students get to know senior students from their own study field. In the introduction week, students are divided into groups with students from other years as their guides. They get to know these older students very well, really get to bond with them. So if they ever have questions about their studies that only senior students can answer, they know exactly who to go to. In studies where this isn't done, senior students are less accessible.
Other things to think about when it comes to introduction weeks:
- Give a budget to study associations to organize the introduction week. You don't want first-year students to have to pay extra for activities. This makes going to the introduction week more accessible and inclusive.
- Steer as little as possible on the organization during the introduction week. Many studies want to determine the day program and leave the evening program to the associations. But this does not benefit the bonding process. Give students ownership of the full planning.
- Prevent separate registration for the day and evening programs. Normalize everyone participating in everything. Otherwise, some students will be left out who, for example, do not have the budget for the evening activities or dislike parties. Students can decide for themselves if they want to leave, but by splitting up activity programs, you might encourage students not to stay. Most of the bonding takes place during the parties.
- Really organize an introduction WEEK. Smaller studies often organize only an introduction day. This is not enough to bond with your study and fellow students.
- Master students and pre-master students also need an introduction week. Many students change schools, have taken a gap year, or friends have gone to other schools. They need to get to know their new fellow students. A new introduction week also encourages students with existing friends in their class to make more friends outside their pre-existing group. These groups of students also need bonding, so don't skip their introduction week.
So, the introduction week is the most important factor in student bonding, but there are also things you can do as a teacher during courses to strengthen bonding.
2. Use the same groups for mentoring and work groups
The best bonds are created when students see your fellow students a lot. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use the same mentoring and work groups. It is best if the same workgroup teacher or mentor is also involved in that group, so that students not only bond with their fellow students, but also with a teacher. Several of the students interviewed, indicated that this is how their studies are set up, and that it works very well for them. They really feel connected to their group of fellow students. An additional advantage they mention is that they know each other well and therefore know exactly what to expect when working together on assignments. That makes it easier to adapt. If a student doesn't feel comfortable in their own group, switching should not be difficult. A tip from the students: make sure the mentoring and work groups are not the same as the introduction week groups; otherwise it might distract from the learning.
3. Working in small groups
Students are clear about it: the best bonding occurs in small groups. But lectures can also contribute to bonding. The more assertive students indicated that they like the lectures very much because they can sit next to a random person and get to know them. The conversation will start by itself. It is essential that students can enter the room in time to have a chat beforehand. The breaks are also important for this. They can sit and talk or get coffee together. Another thing you can do as a teacher to contribute to this: give assignments to discuss with each other in a small group. This will help the students get to know the people sitting near them. And of course, the nice thing about all physical classes, whether they are lectures or working lectures, is that students can hang out together afterwards to get to know each other.
4. Digital support for optimizing student bonding
The tips given by the students were clear during the interviews: you need to see each other physically to achieve optimal bonding. But digital support can play a role as well. WhatsApp is the most important tool to help create bonding. Students create their own WhatsApp groups for their study year, for their work groups and to collaborate. With these groups, students can easily reach each other and are constantly in touch. For example, to pass on information about the study, but also to meet up. Therefore, as a teacher, always give some time during one of the first classes to make sure that all students are in the WhatsApp group. As a teacher, you don't have to do anything except give students space for this purpose. This way, you'll guarantee that no one is left out of the group.
Throughout the corona pandemic, students have also discovered other ways in which digital tools can contribute to bonding. For example, VU students are positive about tools like Perusall and FeedbackFruits. With these tools, they can read the literature together, and can ask each other questions directly in the text and others can respond. The students find it especially nice to know that they are not alone while studying. It is nice to read the questions and comments of others, so they can see that they are not the only one who is studying and maybe doesn't fully understand something. They also help each other to understand the literature. Students do indicate that this is not the primary way to create optimal bonding, but this is certainly a tool that does strengthen bonding and the group feeling. They definitely recommend the use of these tools to teachers.