Introducing new learners to college or university can be a make or break moment. Make a good first impression and the new cohort is more likely to feel supported, engaged and motivated. A poor experience, on the other hand, may increase the chances of a student leaving.
The ongoing necessity for remote learning means that the higher and further education sectors have had to do some quick thinking when it comes to planning inductions this year. Many learners will experience their induction via a computer screen instead of, or perhaps as well as, in person and on campus, which raises a series of challenges.
To help colleges and universities navigate this uncharted sea, Jisc staged a free roundtable event and the resulting advice and emerging best practice from various sources and has been put together in an induction guide.
It includes examples of how some organisations have already innovated with technology and included virtual tours, games and even escape rooms in their induction programmes.
The guide suggests induction should aim to help learners feel part of a community, to support wellbeing, help learners understand the skills and equipment they will need and the systems and processes they will be using.
Feeling part of a community is about inclusivity and making peer connections, but the pandemic has complicated how this works in practice. Now, more than ever, the digital estate is as much part of the organisation as the physical campus and, likewise, the digital experience is not a bolt-on, but a necessity.
Making sure learners feel they can learn, communicate and build social groups, whether on campus or from remote connections, is a significant challenge, but not insurmountable.
So, consider what devices or connections learners may be using to access the induction programme and to study. Some may feel isolated from the group if their device can’t access the content, they run out of data because a video uses a lot of bandwidth, or if the content is not in a format that’s suitable for their use.
Activities involving collaboration to form social groups are nothing new, and adding these to an online space could be engaging and rewarding. But, when planning such activities, note that simply creating spaces for community may not be enough to encourage people to participate. Give the activity a purpose or create an event around which people can ‘congregate’.
Here are three great examples:
The University of Sussex created a zombie apocalypse game that introduced students to the resources, support and space available to them at the library. And the University of Huddersfield and the University of Northampton use the concept of escape rooms to give a fun learning experience.
Virtual campus can be useful too. Some examples include:
- Lakes College, West Cumbria
- Plymouth Marjon University
- City of Glasgow College
- Guide on how to create a 360 tour using Moodle & H5P
Induction should provide clear guidance for learners on where they can go to for support. This might include links to mental health resources, webinars, online appointments or drop-in sessions, and appointing existing learners as mentors.
While providing online opportunities to meet peers and make friends might be welcomed by many, others could feel vulnerable and exposed, so it’s important for their comfort that there’s a choice to step out and listen or observe. Nobody should feel pressured to take part.
There's more information in Jisc’s digital wellbeing: the impact of technologies and digital services on people’s mental, physical and emotional health.
Providing key information
Things to consider include assessing and nurturing digital skills, ensuring access to devices and a good wifi connection and familiarity with all the systems. Remember, just because learners use technology and social media at home doesn’t mean they know how to learn online.
Learners will be using lots of different devices, so content must be compatible with screens both large and small, and it must be usable for those without a mouse, those using touch screens or trackpads as well as those on a desktop.
Accessibility is king when preparing content for any programme, but it could be a more sensitive area for new starters with additional needs. Activities, content and online spaces should also be compatible with any assistive tech that is being used.
Finally, while induction could include on-campus activities, don’t bank on it. Be prepared for lockdown rules to be tightened if the pandemic worsens.