Physical distance no match for our virtual social butterflies

From Secret Santa to Pictionary with a twist, the UNSW Business School community share hacks for staying social while studying.

The people you meet at uni are key to enjoying your degree and kickstarting career networks. Making friends IRL happens naturally by going to the same classes, society events and cafés on campus. But how do you make those connections happen online?

UNSW Business School lecturers and tutors now create time for students to talk with each other during live online tutorials. Associate Professor Will Felps from the School of Management has specific strategies to help his students connect.

“One of the strategies is a ‘helping circle’, where everyone has to ask for some sort of help, and everyone else has to offer help to at least one person. It could be an academic or personal topic. For example, we had someone who couldn’t level up in Fortnite and someone else knew how to do it,” he says.

“Another strategy I use is cold calling, which may sound counter-intuitive, but it involves students working in small groups together on a problem and they have to come to a consensus on the solution. Then I cold call them and ask ‘what did your team come up with?’. If you cold call someone randomly it can be scary, but when they’ve talked about it with their team and represent the group’s opinion, it’s not that scary,” says Will.

Will believes it is important for his students to know each other. He has adapted the timing of his tutorials to include students living in different timezones. His students also make a short video introducing themselves in a memorable way, for example using some sort of trick to help everyone remember their name.

Meanwhile Bachelor of Commerce student Valentino Breckenridge has noticed the video link for his tutorials opens ten minutes before the class begins, so he uses this time to chat with anyone who also wants to chat.

“Sometimes it goes silent and no-one replies, but other times people talk back to me and it’s like you realise everyone’s in the same situation. They just want someone to talk to, so I feel that’s a good way to connect with my classmates,” he says.

As well as connecting with classmates there are opportunities to bulk up your resumé. Valentino is an Internal Education Director for the UNSW Accounting Society (AccSoc), a society that bridges the gap between students and the professional world. AccSoc runs a mock recruitment process over five separate events, including a mock assessment centre which received excellent feedback after moving online.

The mock assessment centre made use of Cisco Webex, video conferencing software that allows the user to share drawings made on their device’s touchpad. Students were divided into groups of five to complete projects, including drawing a house and solving a business case on how blockchain and AI is impacting the accounting industry.

“With drawing the house, one person could only draw circles, one person could only draw lines… and they were given challenges along the way. And with the business case, students had to go and research their own ideas, then as a team decide which was the best idea to put forward as their answer. They were assessed on their collaboration skills, so it was highly interactive,” says Valentino.

For UNSW Business Society (BSoc), their 65+ events a year have previously drawn upon being able to connect with students in a physical environment. As the largest society in UNSW with more than 10,000 members, BSoc Co-President Karrie Chen says the benefit of their events is the ability to mingle with other people while upskilling personally, professionally or socially.

“Moving our iconic events online is challenging, but also a really good opportunity for innovation,” she says.

BSoc recently ran their Fundamentals Revision Workshop

online, using Open Broadcaster Software and Slido to livestream on Facebook for more than 200 students. The Society is currently reviewing platforms like Discord, Zoom and Facebook to decide which will be best for their upcoming speed friending event, which helps new and previous students connect.

“This is something we identify as extremely important, especially for the first years who haven’t had the opportunity to be at university and experience what it’s like to be a university student,” Karrie says.

As for keeping in touch with uni friends, Karrie has been using Zoom for group workouts and Secret Santa Uber Eats.

“There’s this Secret Santa generator online. We fill it out with what meals we’ve been missing, and it tells you who you get to be Secret Santa for, and then you go order them a home delivered meal and we all eat together online.”

While physical distancing can be difficult, particularly if you’re new to uni, you’re not alone. You can easily meet new people from the comfort of your couch with fun and interesting virtual community events from UNSW Business School and student societies.

Make the most of your studies during COVID-19 social isolation

Read how our students are adapting to online study. For more useful information visit Transitioning to Online Learning, Peer-Assisted Study Sessions, Individual Learning Consultations, Counselling Services and How to Study Effectively Online.