In May, the First Year Experience team at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater teamed up with Involvio to rapidly transition their Warhawks SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, & Registration) program into a robust, remote experience. It has always been held in-person, but that was not possible this year due to COVID-19.
Defining UW-Whitewater’s goals
With limited time and resources, the First Year Experience team at UW-Whitewater knew that transitioning the SOAR program into a successful virtual experience would be a challenge, especially given the program’s many complexities and objectives.
To create a virtual asynchronous and synchronous SOAR experience, they needed to rethink how significant pieces of the program could be delivered. Some key factors to consider included:
- Making the orientation information easily accessible
- Guiding the students through their orientation schedule
- Facilitating 1:1 advising sessions for every student
- Enabling students & parents to engage with the UW-Whitewater community
- Maintaining a personal connection and face-to-face interactions
The first step: Understanding SOAR key takeaways
SOAR has historically been conducted as single day, in-person sessions on the Whitewater campus. These day-long events are meant to engage students and families by allowing them to:
- Begin acclimating to UW-Whitewater, the campus, and its facilities
- Connect with their peers to facilitate student to student connection
- Meet with an academic advisor and register for classes
- Attend college information sessions
- Participate in Q&A sessions for families
Reimagining SOAR as a Remote Orientation program
After reviewing the planned in-person SOAR schedule and goals for a virtual orientation, we worked closely with UW-Whitewater to build both content and functionality using the Remote Orientation features to facilitate an online SOAR program.
UW-Whitewater’s app gave SOAR attendees:
Each student’s app was highly personalized to show content that was relevant to them. A dedicated tab on the app centralized all key pieces of information and updated the students who needed easy access, with the added advantage that students and parents could explore them even after orientation.
The Community section was a great place for students to come together to communicate with one another, ask and answer questions, build new connections, and feel a sense of community. Parents and families also had their dedicated space to get their questions answered and feel reassured.
Video conferencing access
The robust integration with Webex video enabled students to quickly join in video discussions from the app. Any video meetings they needed to attend were already on their agenda, so they had one-tap access to participate in their various orientation sessions and advisor meetings.
Every student has a unique academic journey, and that had to be reflected in their orientation. Students were part of specific breakout groups and had individual 1:1 advising appointments. The UW-Whitewater app made it easy for students to view these on their agenda so they could stay organized and on track throughout the day.
With Remote Orientation, UW-Whitewater was be able to:
- Conduct all parts of the traditional SOAR program through the app - from 1:1 advising sessions to parent Q&As, and face-to-face interactions via 1-click video calling.
- Host small group breakouts of 25 new students and a student leader as well as larger information sessions based on chosen academic majors
- Give students a dedicated channel to network, get clarity, and build peer-to-peer relationships. The discussion channels remained open after the actual day of remote SOAR, allowing students to continue to stay connected
- Allow students to access key resources throughout the summer, even after the SOAR program has ended
- Provide access to all students, parents, instructors, advisors, and administrators, who were experiencing an online orientation for the first time ever without the need for expensive hardware or software
With the Remote Orientation features, the UW-Whitewater app was a critical component in onboarding new students - it was easy-to-use, intuitive, and interactive. It took the rich human-to-human interactions, foundational resources, and interactive experiences which are key to an orientation program and brought it to their smartphones. Students and parents could download the app before the orientation sessions began and continued using it throughout their college experience.
The Warhawks SOARed, remotely
UW-Whitewater successfully onboarded over 1,800 new first-year students for the fall semester, through a fully online and mobile asynchronous and synchronous experience.
The Remote Orientation features within Involvio were built to aid institutions’ transition online during these unprecedented times, and have addressed significant challenges they were facing in their orientation season. Indeed, while a remote orientation marks a break with tradition, it also opens the doors for new possibilities.