Students’ Learning Outcomes are Related to a Good Study Environment

06 October 2020
Usually in September, SDC introduces new Master’s degree students to each other, to Yanqihu campus and to the city of Beijing. Everything with the purpose of supporting a study environment among the international and Chinese students so they get most out of their time in China. Because of COVID-19, SDC and the pedagogical unit, SMIL, at Roskilde University, were forced to re-think the concept for the intro days and social activities throughout the semester.

Better Learning

About the importance of a good study environment, Associate Professor Jørgen Rafn from SMIL, says:

‘Students’ learning outcomes are closely related to how good a study environment they are a part of. A good study environment is an environment where students experience a sense of belonging and build safe relations to each other. Physical settings is an important factor for the environment, which makes our job supporting the good study environment a challenge this autumn semester.’

Four days of intro in September, which are usually being carried out in Beijing, had to be converted to an online format and planned so students across time zones could attend. But is it possible to build a study environment online and will it add any value to the students’ educational experience?

The fact that feeling safe among your fellow students has an influence on the academic output is something Rikke Mortensen, Public Management and Social Development student, confirms. Further, her experience is that the online intro days have had a very positive influence on the online lectures:

‘Building relations and the social aspects of the intro days were valuable. It has made us more comfortable with each other so we feel safer to speak our minds when we have lectures.’

The First Awkward Online Meeting

However, meeting each other for the first time in an online setting can add an extra awkward factor. Nikolaj Klahn, student at Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, is glad he got the chance to try the online platform Zoom, and organize group work and interact in groups before the lectures began:
‘How do we make sure that everybody gets the chance to say something? How do we demonstrate what we mean? How does the platform even work? We also speak different languages and have different academic backgrounds, so it is easy to misunderstand each other. Being paired up in groups for the intro days and attending events together through Zoom has been really important for getting to know the tool and prepare us for communicating in the best way.’

Further, Rikke Mortensen has become more aware of her personal communication skills:

‘I am more aware of my mimic and how I communicate verbally online. I have also become better at aligning expectations with my study group. When we have to solve a task online, it is important that I know exactly what my fellow students expect from me when I get the responsibility for something, and vice versa. Also, it is good practice to let go of control and trust that the end result will be good, even though it is not exactly how it would turn out if we prepared it jointly with all group member being physically present.’

ZhongDan Team: A Sense of Belonging

‘I believe we need to help the students to keep being involved with each other across programmes, and remember to invest time in being social beyond their study groups so they get the sense of belonging to SDC as a whole,’ Jørgen Rafn says.

At campus in Beijing, SDC facilitates the student gallery “ZhongDan Team” that is being run by students with the purpose of arranging activities and facilities that gathers all SDC students. The ZhongDan Team has, among other things, established a fitness room and arranged holiday parties, movie nights and cultural events, sometimes in cooperation with the Danish cultural institute in Beijing. This semester, The ZhongDan Team has also been activated, allthough many of the activities will be online.
If you ask Rikke Mortensen, the shared responsible for a good a study environment is the way to go:

‘It would be nice if SDC could help us gathering all students from different programmes. But of course, the responsible is also ours, so I think a common effort between the students, SDC and SMIL is necessary to succeed with a good study environment.’

Both international and Chinese students have signed up to be a part of the ZhongDan Team. Some of the activities they have in the pipeline are online movie nights and online side-by-side parties between the international and Chinese students. In Denmark, the students who live in the same cities are also planning to start SDC running teams.

SMIL: Study Milieu and Intercultural Learning

SMIL is a pedagogical unit at SDC, which investigates and develops study environments in intercultural academic classrooms, as well as in social contexts. The research of the intercultural study environment is carried out with the aim of investigating its relevance in contexts to students’ learning outcomes and academic benefits.

The unit consists of Associate Professor Jørgen Rafn, PhD. Student Alexander Støvlebæk and Professor Henning Salling Olesen, all from Roskilde University.

Watch PhD. Student Alexander Støvlebæk explain more about how SMIL is handling the 2020 autumn semester, and students Laurits Dixen and Anh Truong on their thoughts and expectations.

Preparing for an online learning experience