Teaching and Learning Gallery, Teaching Stories

Connecting cohorts in a disconnected world

When you look back at your time in university, what is it you remember most? You have probably merged a lot of the lectures and seminars into a blurry montage of sitting at a desk with your laptop (or pen and paper!) out, taking notes. But for most people, the majority of what they remember is everything around the formal structure of their course – the trips to the library, camaraderie with your fellow students, social events, field trips – the elements that, for the most part, have been taken away from our students over the last year.

Joe Williams, a lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences, recognised this and decided to try and recreate as much of this as possible for his two PGT tutor groups. As their programmes were only a year long, their experience of the course was almost entirely online. To add to this, many of the students were new to Bristol had no personal connections in the city. Creating a sense of connectedness in a world where we were physically separated was essential if these students were to have a positive experience at the University and on their programme.

At the start of the year (when the Rule of Six was in place) Joe invited his students to join him for a Weird Bristol walk around the city, both as an opportunity for them to get to know the area and each other. Following the success of this event, Joe went on to host an evening social via Zoom – another chance for his students to connect in an informal environment where they may not have chance to. Although the event was not attended by all students, it allowed those seeking to develop friendships with their cohort to do.

For the rest of the year, Joe set up (but did not always attend) a Wednesday ‘coffee morning’ via Zoom, and students regularly attended to discuss both things on their course and outside of the University. These events together ensured that students had at least a weekly opportunity to connect with someone in a similar position to themselves – a postgraduate student studying Geography remotely, sharing experiences and reminding them that they are not alone during the difficult nature of this year.

None of these initiatives were costly or took a large amount of time to set up but brought a huge amount of value to the students. Joe hopes to continue the walks around Bristol next year as it has proved a great way for the students to get to know each other in a neutral setting.

Joe has been nominated for the Outstanding Personal Tutor award for the 2021 Bristol Teaching Awards for his work he has done this year – we wish him good luck for the Awards!

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