The idea of online orientation for college students is gaining momentum. Colleges throughout the country have moved to remote learning to close out the spring semester in response to COVID-19 concerns. But it is already time to look ahead to the fall semester and how to accommodate new classes of first-year and transfer students.

Some schools begin new student orientation as early as April. With COVID-19 preventing a physical presence on campuses, student services personnel must problem-solve on how to shift to virtual campus tours and online orientation. In fact, some schools like the University of South Florida have already announced that their school orientation will be held online through August. Higher-ed personnel are also tasked with easing incoming and prospective students’ anxieties amid uncertainties surrounding the fall 2020 semester.

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Fortunately, online orientation isn’t a new concept. Many colleges already have all or part of their orientation process online, and we’ve had the opportunity to work with some world-class institutions on their online orientation curriculum.

If you’re currently trying to transition your historically in-person orientation process to a virtual format, you can find some comfort in knowing that other colleges have already done so successfully.

Here are some things to consider, as well as information about incorporating mental health training in your online orientation.
Considerations for taking student orientation online

New student orientation exists to help incoming freshmen and transfers ease into college life, covering topics such as where to find campus resources, how to manage money, and dealing with the stress that students often encounter during college. This process has always been important, but perhaps even more so now, when incoming students are feeling especially uncertain.

When planning your online orientation, review your current onboarding curriculum and process and consider the following questions:
• Can you leverage an existing learning management platform to deliver the training? The process will likely be similar to pivoting from in-person classes to online classes, as your institution may have already done.
• What does your current curriculum cover and how can you transfer it to an online orientation? Consider using tools such as videos, simulations, video conferences, presentations, etc.
• How can you make the training engaging so students don’t mindlessly click through it? PowerPoint presentations and some e-learning solutions can sometimes be appropriate, but not always. Ensure your content is engaging and interactive so students can gain the most benefit.
• How can you foster a sense of community in a virtual environment? Consider using video conferences to discuss completed modules. This adds more interactivity and also helps students get to know each other, creating a sense of community in a virtual environment.
• Does your orientation address student mental health? Mental health issues are prevalent on campuses (even pre-COVID-19). More colleges are understanding the importance of mental health training, and the impact it can have on reducing burnout and creating a safer campus community.

Even as campuses start resuming in-person orientation, you might still find that some content, such as mental health training, is better delivered virtually.

With varying student schedules, it’s impossible to get 100 percent attendance at orientation sessions. By delivering this content online, you better track that all students are completing training that covers important topics and helps contribute to your campus safety and culture.

Higher education simulations can address campus mental health topics such as suicide and sexual misconduct prevention during and after orientation. Students can learn how to recognize signs that a peer might be at risk, practice talking to virtual students, and receive personalized feedback from virtual coaches.

This type of interactive approach ensures students are engaging with the curriculum, and empowers them to practice using newly-learned skills in a safe, comfortable environment.

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About the Author:

Mindy Nichamin is senior marketing manager of Kognito, a suicide prevention program resource for colleges and universities.


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