First-Year Students Thrive When You Use Tech in Orientation

Although it might seem like orientation is a long ways away, we all know that the best planning begins early, (or has already begun!). A cohort of new students will soon be arriving, eager to discover the campus, make new friends, explore new academic pursuits, and indulge in all that you offer during orientation. However, for these,(predominantly), Generation Z-ers, they’ll want their new postsecondary home to be a natural fit with their everyday tech and media-saturated lives.

Most institutions have extensive and long-standing ‘web-and-email’ strategies for first-year students.Here are some ways you can integrate technology and media into your first-year students’ pre-arrival and orientation experience.

1.Social Media.

Sure you’ve got all the accounts, and you’re posting often on Facebook. But are you truly engaging students? It’s called social media for a reason. Today’s Gen-Z students don’t want to just receive and share info (How Gen-X!). They want to create it. In your social media strategy, make sure you leverage more collaborative platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat. Today’s students are more visually oriented, which makes these platforms all the more resonant.

One initiative can be as simple as having them create photos or videos based on a prompt from you, (e.g., “Show us how excited you are to be starting at _____”) and then connect that with a unique hashtag. You can re-share or collage them, or simply let the hashtag do the curating for you.

2.Online orientations.

The pre-arrival period is gaining more attention as a critical time in the first-year students’ life cycle. Housing and class selection generally happen then, and students will have a slew of other questions about everything academic and co-curricular. Plus, it’s never too early to help students establish social networks with other students—be they fellow first-years or obliging upper-years. Online orientations have become more and more the norm for many institutions, especially those with large, geographically dispersed populations. By using your institution’s existing learning management system (LMS), it’s easy to add new students to an online orientation “course”. You can then take advantage of many typical LMS features, such as video integration, quizzes, surveys, and message boards.

3.Webinars and online events.

As with online orientations, webinars are another popular pre-arrival offering for new students. They allow you to interact in real-time with your incoming cohort and, if recorded, can be shared widely with those who could not attend. Webinars allow you to show live video, narrate presentations, play videos, survey attendees, and set up custom chat areas, (e.g., based on the area of origin, a program of study, etc.). Webinars are also a fantastic option for the parent/family demographic, who may never physically arrive on campus, and are eagerly seeking information during the pre-arrival period.

“Online events” is a newer entry into the digital sphere. Organized, scheduled, and moderated by your institution, online events focus more heavily on the interpersonal chat/conversation aspect of online engagement. Highly internationalized campuses should be wary of how time zones can play into webinar/online event scheduling, and you may need to schedule yours at certain times within popular time zones.

4.An app.

If your aunt’s custom crochet business has an app, then certainly you should too! Today’s students are mobile-first and our incoming students thrive when they have mobile tools that integrate with and support their first-year experience. Augmented reality campus tours, peer-to-peer walls, events calendars, and clubs and services directories are just some of the many features that are made all the more meaningful when available through innovative mobile solutions. If your institution has or is in the process of developing an app, make sure that the first-year experience is a key part of your scope and mobile strategy. Not only is this population most likely to use and benefit from an app, but by heavily integrating orientation within your app, there is little need to do much additional marketing. First-year students are much more likely to download something they see as concretely bringing added value to their first-year experience, rather than downloading something because an email or poster told them to.

Working in the first-year experience department is both the most difficult and the most energizing experience because your demographic changes each year. By exploring and experimenting with new technologies—or older technologies in newer ways —you can help meet your first-year students where they are, and give them the support they need.

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