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Talk Exercises to Facilitate Compassion in Remote Study Groups

These group exercises do not aim to offer tip-like quick-fix solutions to how you can promote wellbeing or motivation to study. Instead, the exercises allow you to bolster an accepting and merciful relationship with studies and life under these remote-access conditions.

The alternative exercises below can be assigned in the beginning of a course or during it to small groups of 3–4 people. The assignments start with an individual reflection phase, after which participants discuss their thoughts in small groups. The small groups are instructed to share their thoughts in a way that allows every group member to be heard and to have an equal opportunity to share their thoughts. One way to achieve this is to go through the group in turns so that everyone has a predetermined turn to speak while the others listen without interrupting. The idea is to have small group discussions—there’s no need to report the findings back to the teacher or the whole class. However, you can always ask if someone wants to share a thought or two with the entire class.

1. Start by reflecting on your feelings and thoughts that arose from distance learning:
What kind of experiences do I have with distance learning? Are there parts of how this course is being organized remotely that raise questions or concerns?
Next, think about the following questions:
What could I do to make the study experience on this course meaningful and fruitful for myself and others? Is there a way that I can make my fellow students enjoy the course and feel well during it?

2. Distance learning is a challenge to every student. Share your experience of how (well) you’ve succeeded in studying remotely and maintaining your focus.

3. Share a moment of imagination: Where would I want to be in five years? We can only guess what the outcome will be. However, simply taking an imaginary step away from the present helps us to detach from the current conditions and to experience a mentally uplifting moment.

Listening to students’ views of how distance learning should be organized:

1. Have a discussion of how the flexible course participation should work: Students gather into small groups to provide the teacher with a list of methods that they think would help them learn the contents of the course remotely. One group member shall write down the group’s ideas and deliver the list to the teacher.

Ideas for distance learning organizers – how to foster a group experience:

1. Facilitating casual conversation: Could you provide the class with a “lecture hall lobby”, a small window of time for students to have casual everyday conversations over a remote connection before or after the lecture/class?

2. Getting to know others and grouping during the course: Is there a way to form “home groups,” where students could always join the same small group on the teaching platform, for example, in Zoom’s breakout rooms?

3. Embrace co-passion and positive feedback: Make time for a peer feedback exercise where you ask students to only give positive feedback to others. Students can use, for instance, the following talking points:

• What was interesting/inspiring about the presentation/assignment/message?
• What new thoughts did it inspire in me? How did it expand my way of thinking?
• About which points would I want to hear more?

These exercises were designed by Facilitator and Specialist Sini Forssell and Project Manager Laura Heimonen from Nyyti Ry for the Compassion in Higher Education project. A big “thank you” goes also to University Teacher Tommi Mäkinen from the University of Jyväskylä for all the insightful conversations.

Links of interest:

Compassionate Flexibility and Self-Discipline: Student Adaptation to Emergency Remote Teaching in an lntegrated Engineering Energy Course during COVID-19:­in-onIine-courses/­online-teaching/