With unending online classes, study streaming channels and vloggers see an uptick among students desiring peer company
First, the thermos and the coffee mug. One by one, Merve places her laptop, study material and stationery, on an organised window desk in her Glasgow home. For the next hour, she records herself studying, to the sound of gentle rain pouring outside. Intermittently, you hear her flip pages, pen scratching words, fingers dancing on keys.
“Hopefully, that helps you know I’m there studying with you,” she says. It does: around the globe, almost three lakh people from 167 countries have been studying with her. On her YouTube channel, this International Relations student at the University of Glasgow has a variety of one to six-hour long ‘Study With Me’ sessions, shot in carefully chosen, aesthetic locations: on snowy days inside the library, at twilight with birds chirping.
In some ways, she, like many other student vloggers, is the live action version of the Animated Study Girl. This Studio Ghibli-inspired character is the icon for Chilled Cow’s popular stream, ‘lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to’. Until February 2020, before the stream was briefly terminated over a copyright strike, the video ran up to over 13,000 hours, making it one of the longest in YouTube history. Following an outcry from its dedicated fans, it was up and running soon — and has been streaming till today; open to whoever wants a ‘chill environment to study’.
In the past year, ‘study with me’ vlogs and livestreams have seen an uptick. The pandemic put students in a novel position of having to study by themselves at home, where distractions abound. “There are many students struggling to find the motivation to study alone. We are longing for the good old times where we could fill in the classrooms, learn together, laugh and worry together,” says Merve.
It was a challenge Delhi-based Dinker Chaudhary was determined to remedy as he prepared for GATE exams. “Six months ago, I started streaming on YouTube every time I sat down to study,” says 22-year-old Dinker, who is in the final year of Mechanical Engineering. “The phone is the biggest distraction, so I used it as a webcam. Those eight hours that I am streaming, I can’t use my phone,” he explains.
He started doing this every day, and his determination found followers: over 300 people sit with him as they study together (virtually) for three hours in the morning and five hours in the evening.
Students who join his stream are not all mechanical engineers like himself: there are those studying medicine, preparing for NEET, UPSC, and even ones from Classes IX to XII. “We have a Discord server and a Telegram group with 50 members each where we fix study schedules and compare notes,” he says.
Students studying together talk to each other during designated breaks. Most channels follow a pomodoro technique where they study for 50 minutes and take a break for 10 minutes. The number of minutes until break time is visible on the screen. “I also share my screen in the stream, so that I bind myself to not watch (entertainment) videos on my laptop,” he adds.
Noticing how his efficiency has improved over the past six months, Dinker says he was not the sort to join group studies before the pandemic. “I was sure that somebody or the other would prove a distraction. But over these last six months I have realised that a lot of us are going through the same thing and have similar problems in focussing,” he says.
Someone like me
For college freshers, a major reason to watch study vlogs is getting a glimpse into what their batchmates — someone they may have never met in real life, but attend classes with on a daily basis — are like. Deepika Singh, a first year Visual Communications student at Madras Christian College in Chennai, puts up regular vlogs of her experiences of studying online for college, while lofi music plays in the background.
Study vloggers like Deepika record their days right from the time they wake up, to when they are studying, and even when they are taking breaks in between: watching a show, baking a cake, sipping tea, or even a quick grocery run to get some noodles. It is a lot of work: editing all of that down to 10 minute vlogs. But it is worth it for Deepika, who says, “I always get motivated whenever I see study vlogs of others and so I started filming my own study sessions.”
It is similar to watching another person dance or sing. You don’t do it to learn the choreography, you do it because it gets you in the mood to dance. And so it is with study vlogs, explains Ananya Gupta, a Class XII student who uploads edited videos of her study sessions. “When you watch study vlogs, you realise that everyone is on the same page as you. It helped me get through online school,” she says.
Hacks to better focus
- Discord, a community platform, is the preferred channel among students; servers such as Study Together and Study Livestream Crew are popular. Users can join in different channels: voice only, screenshare and video. Members who have made friends within the server also have their own private study rooms.
- Members are held accountable by not just the sense of community, but also by bots that monitor their activity. Upon entering a channel, the user is intimated by an accountability bot to set a goal/task within two minutes or to be kicked out of the channel. Break times and working times are fixed in every channel by the admins. In the chat, people can share the tasks that they have accomplished within the stipulated time, to mutual encouragement.
- On his YouTube channel, Dinker says that he has introduced a counting system in the chat that keeps a track of how many hours of study a user has put in. Greater the number of hours put in, greater the points you collect. The top 10 users also receive a moderator badge.
When the pandemic hit, friends Johan Verghese, Akshaya Alex, John Jiji and Adi Sankar, all third year students at Loyola College, would keep in touch over video calls mainly because they missed each other, but also to talk about the stock market, which the Business Administration students jokingly dub as a ‘gateway to a wealthier life’.
“Finally we settled on Discord, which is fun!” exclaims Adi, “We can add nice slow music in the background, while we send files, stream, and screen share.”
“Back then we were preparing to give GMAT, and we made our Discord server sometime in September,” says Akshaya, “If you look at our GMAT scores, you can see how it actually helped us.”
They would start off by screen sharing as they read business news articles and discuss it together, followed by a quiet session of solving questions for an hour, answering each others’ doubts as they moved ahead. A basic classroom scene with friends, minus the teacher; just self-education. “The company was nice, right after our study sessions we would reward ourselves with an online game. This way we would always look out for each other,” says Johan.
Akshaya adds, “Any time we get distracted, one of us becomes the responsible one, and tells everyone to go back to studying. It’s codependent, you see?”
– With inputs from Jacob C Isaac and Raghul N.