This is the second part of a 3-part student-voice series. Read Part 1 here.

Schools, educators, and administrators have their hands full trying to chart out online learning. We students think we can help. This 3-part series neatly summarizes the views of over 1 billion students around the world. While we of course didn't talk to every student in this billion-plus, we spoke to a representative, diverse group of students across disciplines, school levels, and countries to synthesize this letter to administrators and educators worldwide. The aim of this series is to give institutions a little insight into what the current systems of learning feel like to the key stakeholders (that's us!Hiii. 🙋🏽‍♀️), so that they can provide the best possible student learning experience from here on out.

Dear Schools, Educators, and Administrators,

We know that you know this, but we want to give you a gentle reminder that our learning experience extends far beyond the classroom. We want to stay engaged and enrolled, so please work with us to truly understand our needs from you this Fall.

Social and collaborative learning is so important, and is a huge part of school for all of us. When I'm in the classroom, I find comfort in the expressions of my classmates. When I leave one class, I do a 3-minute postmortem with my friends while walking to our next one. At the library, I'm so motivated just by the presence of others engrossed in their studies, even if it's in absolute silence. At lunch, I banter with my friends. And when I'm struggling with an essay or problem set, my friends are around to offer help. There's a social aspect to learning that we cannot ignore. It's what truly makes colleges and other schools whole and engaging spaces.

In our COVID-19 world of digital learning, it seems that schools are trying to recreate the learning experience with Zoomed lectures alone. These may satisfy your need to deliver didactic lectures, but they don't satisfy your customers. We need social, collaborative learning. No, Zoom breakout rooms don't count. And no, Zoom chat doesn't count either.

I know it's not what you want to hear, but here, let's talk about it together. Here are four important ways you can check the 'collaborative learning' box, which will make your school better, forever.

🙌🏽 Enable us to work together

There's a certain thrill to being on a trek with a friend - your companion in good times and bad. Someone to catch you when you're just about to trip, who can help you to untangle your foot from the inevitable mesh of roots and bramble.

An academic journey is no different - it's made twice as fun with your companions. Believe it or not, there are tools out there that let your students embark on academic adventures together - sharing resources, and holding each other accountable. Everything is better with a friend, especially when you're overwhelmingly lonely!

🎯A bit of friendly competition

Nothing wrong with a little bit of healthy competition, right? In fact, for many students, leaderboards and gamified education are often great motivators, provided that student identities can be masked at-will.

Gamified flashcard quizzes, earning reputation for helping friends or strangers, and extra points for GSD (getting sh-, er, stuff...done) go a long way in motivation, collaborative learning, and putting smiles on student faces. When you can see how far you and your friends have come in your learning journeys, you build great motivation to keeping pushing yourself.

These tools exist. And many have great pedagogical techniques built in.

🔭 Peer review, in its most literal sense

The world is saturated with digital content, and we have to sift through it all. Students often rely on their peers to know how 'good' content is: we all look at YouTube's like-to-dislike ratio, we look to reddit to identify the good and bad, and we check with our 'upperclass-them' to see what helped them way back when (read: last semester).

But what if we could connect to each other to really learn from each other? What works, what doesn't. What peers are using, and what they're not. What segments of videos or lectures helped the most, and what didn't help at all. What if we could connect learners in such a way that students didn't even have to ask each other - and all of the answers were simply knowable from our learning software?

These tools are rare, but they do exist, and they dramatically change the playing field for all of us.  They make our lives much, much easier.

🕊 Help from the homies

You know that feeling when you just can't get your darn code to compile? Or you just can't figure out the right math formula? We've all been there. And where do we go? To our friends, of course. Or maybe to an office hours session. During this pandemic, these are logistically tough things to facilitate using calendars and zoom. Our learning software should allow us to flag that we need help, and to let people know where, with what, and how we need that help. We should be able to identify fellow students who need help so that we can pitch in and assist, too. After all, teaching is one of the best ways for us to learn, and it helps to build a great school community.

There are tools out there that make this possible, too. That's what we want in our hands.

🤔So what should you do?

Dear administrators, together, let's start supporting tools that help us to collaborate and study together. Learning is fun and so worth the price tag when it's a social experience. If you leave that part of our education by the wayside, I promise you that we'll be disengaged, and we'll be at risk. We don't want this, and neither do you.

Interested in learning how you can foster a more social and collaborative online learning environment?


P.S.: We are offering our software and time, free of cost, to institutions devoted to serving historically underserved or discriminated-against communities. We recognize that humans have created great societal and educational inequalities, and we want to do our part to strive for an equitable and just educational system.

If you don’t know us, we are Sophya. We build learning software that keeps learners at the center. We work with thousands of students all over the world and can help you create a learning experience that is meaningful to and magical for your learners.

Interested? Give us a shout at aloha@sophya.ai!

About the author:

Sehr Taneja is studying Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She lives for the magic of conversations that change her perspective, books that allow her to dream, and ideas that  transform the world. Her survival kit includes chocolates, tea, and puppies. Follow her on Twitter @sehrtaneja6.

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