J’étudie, ensemble! Online Coaching to Increase Motivation
Because of confinement and distance learning, students have difficulty motivating themselves behind their screens and focusing on one task at a time. Inspired by the Thèsez-vous activities offered to graduate students, I mobilized several colleagues to develop an online coaching service dedicated to the college student community.
The beginnings of the project
Studying alone at home is not easy, because the more important and complex a task is, the more likely you are to procrastinate. While writing my master’s thesis, I discovered the Thèsez-vous organization. To help motivate myself and free myself from the lethargy that is occasionally caused by working from home, I participated in various activities offered by this organization.
Thèsez-vous offers university students in all fields of study:
- writing retreats
- coworking activities
- virtual writing sessions
TheThèsez-vous activities helped me a lot during my master’s degree and I wanted to organize some at the CEGEP. I was thinking about setting aside a corner of the library to host these sessions, but it was still in its infancy when the COVID-19 pandemic turned everyone’s lives upside down.
After an emotional end to the winter 2020 session, stress and the unknown were just as palpable for the fall session, which was to be mostly remote. My idea of coaching, transposed into an online formula, appeared to be the most relevant to:
- break isolation
- create motivation
- help students adopt healthy work habits
The Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s in Italy. It involves dividing a task into concrete steps. During timed study periods, the student focuses on one step at a time. Each period is separated by a short break.
For more information on the Pomodoro technique, Profweb suggests the following Real-Life Story by Andy Van Drom.
Initially, the Pomodoro technique consisted of 25-minute study periods punctuated by 5-minute breaks. For J’étudie, ensemble! [I study, together!] the team opted for 2 periods of 50 minutes with a 10-minute break in between.
To carry out the project, I approached various colleagues at the CEGEP whose dynamism and ease of engaging students in different projects I liked.
How a study session works
To participate in a study session, students must register using an online form. They select the study periods that are most convenient for them. Once registered, the student receives a Zoom link to participate in the session.
During the study session, registered students are welcomed by a facilitator who will coach them for the 2 hours. The facilitator’s role is to help students be more efficient and focused on the tasks they need to accomplish.
Before the session begins, students introduce themselves in 3 words by changing their name on Zoom (first name – field of study – hobby). The facilitator then takes 10 minutes to clarify expectations and rules to follow and to introduce the Pomodoro technique and the formulation of a SMART goal.
A SMART goal is intended to help students individually define concrete, achievable goals within the term. That goal should be:
- Specific—needs to be detailed and precise
- Measurable—needs to be quantifiable (you can observe what you have achieved)
- Achievable—can be completed without requiring drastic changes in habits
- Realistic—takes into consideration your skills and context
- Temporally defined—needs to be set within a reasonable time frame
The facilitator encourages students to turn on their cameras, as it is more motivating to see others studying at the same time as you. He also asks the students to turn off their cell phones and any other distractions. Then he starts the timer, which he displays on the screen, for a period of 50 minutes. At the end of the first 50 minutes, students take a 10-minute break from their computers and then return for a second 50-minute block.
With this project, we want students to understand that learning to focus all their attention on one task at a time is critical to their success. Students are used to multitasking, but it is extremely energy consuming. They need to be helped to realize that being deeply invested in a task requires cognitive engagement. This cognitive engagement cannot take place if attention is constantly diverted by the various notifications on their cell phones.
At the end of the study session, if they wish, students share their experience and the progress or achievement of their SMART goals with each other.
A project to be continued!
J’étudie, ensemble ! was officially launched on September 22, 2020. The facilitation team and I are still in the process of promoting it to college students and faculty. Already, several students have participated in study sessions and the feedback has been very positive. Students find it motivating to be guided as they study and they notice that they produce higher quality work when they are not distracted.
We set up the project quickly so that students could benefit early in the semester. We are currently thinking about whether we will continue with Zoom. We don’t want to multiply the platforms unnecessarily for students and Teams is used massively at the CEGEP. The project is subject to evolution over time to best meet the needs expressed by students.
In short, put away your cell phone and start your timer!