Traditionally, the college orientation program has been an elaborate affair — being the student’s official introduction to their classes, the institution's culture, schedules, subjects, co-curriculars etc. 2020 marked a global first for higher education institutions as they welcomed incoming students without meeting them face-to-face. Online orientation was the only available option. Many universities struggled, the experience just wasn’t the same.
As universities continue to orient students online, we bring to you 18 tips to build a successful virtual orientation program that will equip students with the resources they need to begin their new academic year confidently.
Preparing before the online orientation
#1 Over prepare and plan all details
During in-person orientations, students gain a lot from their environment on campus. They might run into classmates, interact with roommates etc. by chance. In a hybrid or virtual campus, such serendipitous connections are unlikely to happen. To ensure the best onboarding experience, prepare ahead of time. And plan for every possibility.
#2 Make all the program information available in one place
An online orientation can be daunting for students. Most importantly, they might have trouble asking for help. To ease their transition, over-communicate. Allow them to access everything they need — registration forms, login information, video meeting links, timing etc. Sending regular and personalized notifications can improve student engagement significantly.
#3 Convey the agenda beforehand
Let students know what they can expect at the orientation. Invite student responses to the agenda. Use it as an opportunity to identify common concerns and address them in the virtual program.
#4 Clarify the guidelines
Simple pointers like joining 15 minutes before the meeting, renaming with roll numbers, keeping mics switched off etc. can ensure that the whole program goes smoothly. Identify a process with rules suitable to your university and communicate them to students clearly.
#5 Test the tools before the actual program
Avoid both technical and practical issues like faulty mics, incompatible systems, low lighting, background noise etc. by conducting a trial run. During this time, review the program from the point of view of the student — can students see the speakers clearly, are the slides legible etc. Based on what you discover, optimize for student experience.
Optimizing student experience during the remote orientation
#6 Anticipate distractions
You can’t help background construction or an unruly sibling when students join the orientation from home. To say nothing of volatile connectivity. Overcome this by simplifying presentations, speaking slowly, reiterating with short summaries, or occasionally switching off chat to hold attention for longer.
#7 Create a welcoming environment
Students coming to college during these strange times might be more anxious than the batches before. Universities would do well to create a more welcoming environment to ensure the student experience is comfortable. Publish self-help resources. Create avenues for them to ask questions.
Also, highlight the institute’s traditions and culture, celebrate the achievements and make the experience as immersive as possible.
#8 Strengthen the online community
Introduce the various student communities active on campus. Invite interested students to join student communities. Connect them to the university social media channels so they are acquainted with campus-wide activities, not just their own.
#9 Offer a campus tour
Bring in the excitement of being on campus with a live or pre-recorded campus tour. This would be especially helpful in encouraging students to make better use of on-campus time in hybrid campuses. Also remember that online the campus is campus too. Include a tour of community networks, online libraries etc. to truly embrace the hybrid model.
#10 Orient the family too
Plan a session specifically for parents or family members and get them comfortable about hybrid or virtual campus.
#11 Take questions and address concerns
Both parents and students will have questions. Plan exclusive time to answer questions and address concerns. While you might have answers to all their questions already published somewhere, remember that it offers reassurance when you engage individually. Make time for these interactions.
#12 Address mental health and inclusivity
Student anxieties have been heightened by the pandemic. They need to know that the university understands this. Discuss mental health openly with them. Connect them to resources like counselling, in case they need it.
#13 Tell real student stories
Encourage students leaders or ambassadors from the batch of 2020 to discuss their experiences openly. Invite them to share their vulnerabilities and how they overcame it. Prepare them for a year of learning where everyone is figuring out as they go along.
#14 Include peer meet and greet sessions
An orientation is as much about student relationships as it is about the relationship between student and the university. Include virtual meet and greet sessions for students to get to know one another. Encourage student representatives to reach out to shy or introverted students to include them too.
#15 Make the program available for later use
Not all students can join the orientation live. Enable asynchronous orientation as well. Record sessions that students can watch later. Make presentations, contact lists, documentation etc. available for download.
#16 Make it fun!
All work and no play will make the orientation dull. Include games, quizzes, polls or a round of interesting questions as an icebreaker.
After a successful orientation
#17 Collect feedback
A good feedback mechanism helps both you and your students. By asking them about their experience at the orientation, you can hear what worked and what didn’t, helping you make your next sessions better. Students, on the other hand, feel heard and included, which plays a key role in making them feel like they belong.
Set up a quick survey or an online form to collect quantitative feedback. Also invite students to email their concerns and suggestions.
#18 Set up meetings with advisors
All said and done, getting oriented to college life through a computer screen can be a bit underwhelming. To help students feel real human connection, set up meetings with their student advisors as soon after the orientation as possible.
Leverage technology for a meaningful virtual orientation program
The generation of students going to college today are digital natives. They are savvy with the latest technology and are never without their smartphones. A mobile orientation app can be a virtual companion for their entry into college life, presenting you with a golden opportunity to deliver the rich, personalized student experience you’re known for.