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Virtual common rooms

The Virtual Common Room project aims to use globally accessible technologies to facilitate social interaction among UCL students, wherever they are based.

Last update: 15 September 2020

The Virtual Common Room (VCR) project is investigating a virtual offering to support students’ wellbeing, and a sense of belonging to the UCL community. 

About the Virtual Common Room project

This is one of a series of projects focused on enhancing the student experience and student engagement by fostering connections with fellow students, their department, their programme of study and wider UCL.

We are facing an environment in the 2020-21 academic year where many students will be studying remotely and some international students may not be able to travel to the UK. Even for those on campus, there may not be the usual level of opportunity for students to meet socially, such as in cafes and busy study spaces. Students (especially those new to UCL) could feel isolated and disconnected from their peers.

Although students have traditionally used publicly available social media to create their own networks, there is no guarantee that all students will be included in those, or that students in all countries will be able to access these networks. 

Aims of the project 

The Virtual Common Room project, informed by students and the Students' Union UCL (SU), provides new and returning students with a virtual social space to connect with other students in their department using a globally accessible platform.

This initiative will provide guidance and materials to allow departments (and other groups) to create easy to use, remote groups and social spaces for connecting students, for networking and building communities.

How VCRs will work

  • Virtual Common Rooms will normally function at the level of the department, although creating more specific rooms will be possible to best suit the normal social arrangements of the department.
  • VCRs are not compulsory (indeed you may already have a perfectly functioning alternative) but they provide a simple way to create the connections vital to a sense of belonging, and provide an inclusive space to encourage connection and joint activity and learning.
  • The VCRs will be created via the Microsoft Teams platform and use other linked Office 365 functionality to create a more dynamic and casual space.
  • They will be student-led and maintained but will require a little bit of ‘handholding’ by the department in the first few weeks to help them take root and become lively and well visited spaces.
  • The set-up of the departmental VCR will be a supported by the ISD team in the lead up to the start of term and first few weeks of operation so that teaching administrators can focus on encouraging engagement with of the VCR rather than the technical set up, creation and administrative tasks.
  • The VCRs will be almost ‘plug and play’ but we will provide light touch guidance for 1) technical tips to make the most of your VCR 2) tips for staff, students and student reps about getting the most out of this virtual connection. 

Although it takes a different approach, this case study provides an example of how a programme team, MSc Dental Hygiene, developed a successful social space - in this case, a degree programme community. 

VCRs in action: the UCL Medical School's plans

The Medical School is setting up one VCR for all PG students and six UG VCRs (it's a very big programme!). The UG ones will be made up of:

  • One room for new joiners containing all 1st years, their transition mentors and the senior student rep. It will also include of our TAs with a special responsibility for student experience who will join it for the first 2-3 weeks to ensure it has some activity and ‘life’ then exit.
  • One room for each of the five remaining year groups containing the 350 students in each year and the senior student reps who will provide support.

How VCRs will look when set-up

The VCR is an MS Team where the following channels will be set up:

  • Noticeboard a place to notify the VCR members of important information, similar to a bulletin board in a physical common room.
  • Introductions – members can be encouraged to introduce themselves. These introductions can be referred to over time, especially if new members join the VCR.
  • Café - a space dedicated to hosting meeting and events, with ability to set up ad hoc, scheduled or drop in style events.  Guests can be invited to specific events too.
  • Chat – the main space for general discussion and dialogue.

Note: the titles for these channels are provisional at this time. 

Normally hosted at departmental or programme level, MS Teams-based VCRs are designed to be led and supported by the student body with the aim of creating an accessible and inclusive virtual space to network, connect and build communities with other students. 

Mindful of the multiple demands on staff in this busy period, the VCRs will be extremely simple to set up with support by a dedicated ISD team and with some light touch guidance developed in partnership with Students’ Union UCL to help you and your students make the most of your VCR.   

Whether posting notices using the ‘Noticeboard’ function, using the ‘Chat’ function to discuss classes, raise questions and ideas, (or just to pass some time) or hosting a coffee morning after a core module session or a Friday night quiz using the ‘Cafe’ function - we hope students can feel a greater sense of belonging and begin to build those relationships that are central to their UCL experience. 

Watch our 5 minute video explaining how the VCRs will work, the steps needed to allow ISD to set one up for you and how to engage students in the room.

Requesting a VCR

To request your common room(s), please complete this simple form.

Note: You will need to complete one per common room. We recommend that Connected Learning Leads (or other delegated staff member) co-ordinate the VCRs for each department

The project team will create the VCRs so that it’s ready to plug-in and play or customise ahead of your students arriving later this month.

Once the form is received, we aim to create the VCRs within three working days. The department will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the set-up before next providing the student membership data. Once this is received, students can be added either by the department, or the project team, and then the VCR will be live!

How to foster a successful VCR

  • This is a place for students, with the intention that the department sets it up and hands it over. Once the VCR has been launched, it is important that students are given the power to steer the development of their VCR.
  • Seek to establish the value of the VCR and build momentum behind it in the first few weeks of term. Departmental staff, transition mentors and Student Reps should try to post notices and set up a few activities to help the VCR ‘take root’ among the students – the project team can help with ideas for this.
  • We are considering the possibility of creating a community of departmental VCR owners where best practice, tips and tricks can be shared.

See the Staff and Student Owners' guide to Virtual Common Rooms for more  information on how to establish and run a successful VCR. 

Student guide to Virtual Common Rooms

You can use our Student Guide to UCL Virtual Common Rooms to introduce your students to these new spaces: how they work; the role of Student Owners; and what to do about any concerning behaviour. 

Project team 

The project team includes student representatives and staff from ISD, the SU, and the Office of the Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs). There has been consultation with student representatives.

For queries about the project, please email VCRsupport@ucl.ac.uk

If you would like to speak to someone in the project team, or share your experience of using a VCR, please contact Ruth Harper, Associate Director, Student Partnership, Office of the Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs).