By University of Phoenix
With the vast majority of University of Phoenix’s student population pursuing higher education completely online, the physical isolation from classmates can sometimes make the experience a little lonely.
But a virtual gathering developed by the University has helped foster a robust online community that is helping meet students’ social and academic needs.
In December 2016, the University’s Social Media Team was seeking a way to encourage students to finish their schoolwork before the holiday break. They decided to create an online Facebook study session that quickly grew into a robust networking community for their students. After seeing there was a demand for this type of networking, the team transformed the event into monthly sessions that allow UOPX’s adult learners to gather together to ask questions about schoolwork, share their experiences of what they’ve learned, and even get support from fellow students and alumni.
Kitty Lang, a UOPX social media community manager, said the Facebook study sessions are a great platform for like-minded students, who are primarily working adults balancing multiple obligations, to gather and connect with one another.
“The study sessions allow [adult learners] to build and foster a sense of community together, and let them know we’re here to support them so they don’t ever feel isolated,” said Lang, who added that her team fondly refers to their students and alumni as the “#PhoenixFamily.” “The sessions are a way for them to network and connect, meet a new friend or study buddy, get some homework done and reach out for support and motivation.”
Subjects discussed during the sessions cover a wide range and can prompt deep academic discussions. Study session participants also share resources, advice, and even reveal their hopes and dreams for academic success and their future careers after graduation. But conversations also deviate.
Every month there is a new study session theme, to guide participants to intended outcomes for sessions, and, from there, the conversation organically takes its course. Lang shared recent topics including stress awareness, late-night motivation, balancing school with the holidays, and overcoming study fears.
Some of the discussion threads are about study tips or useful subjects like time management. But they’re also laid back and even described by student participants, like Adriel Bratton, as fun.
“I got some good study tips, a way to outline assignments, a calendar, but the study sessions are really more of a study break,” said Bratton, who graduated from UOPX with a Bachelor of Science in Management. “It helps you to get through the work.”
Bratton keeps coming back to the Facebook study sessions to reconnect with the UOPX community he knew as an undergraduate, to share study techniques he has learned and to help the next cohort of students succeed in their programs.
“Sometimes I come back just for the uplift I get from being part of the discussion,” he added.
The November 2019 “Join our table” session held just before Thanksgiving featured a discussion on time management. Students shared tips that ranged from “Write it down in order of priority” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” to “Schedule your procrastination time.”
As they logged in, participants found a thread to introduce and describe themselves. On another thread, they shared their ambitions and motivations — the reason they pursued higher education. There was even a thread on the #StudySessionPlaylist — a Spotify playlist set up by the UOPX team to accompany the online session.
The Social Media Team plans to continue developing engaging content for the events. They have also started a similar series, the quarterly New Student Networking Mixer, specifically geared toward new students.
Kari Dopkins, who has just completed her undergraduate program in Early Childhood Education, has participated in the Facebook study sessions and said that they do exactly what they’re intended to do — create a supportive environment where students can mingle socially and academically.
What makes the program a success is that the student participants get so much out of it. It’s more than study tips and an online party. Dopkins said she made lifelong friends with others in the same program, who are all from widely dispersed places. Dopkins hails from South Carolina, and through the study sessions, bonded with a UOPX student located in South Korea, and another in Australia.
“The study sessions are a fun, inventive way of building a sense of community when you’re in an online university environment,” Dopkins said.