How to engage students during online orientation

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How to engage students during online orientation

With the continued COVID-19 crisis-related disruption to community colleges and students, administrators have begun asking questions about how to transition in-person events, such as orientation, into our new, socially-distant, and primarily virtual world. To create an engaging virtual orientation experience, follow these three guidelines our research team developed based on recent interactions with our partners:

Use a variety of media to deliver information

Include interactive tasks to keep students on track

Remove jargon to ensure clarity 

To engage students more fully, break up text with videos and images

Long blocks of text with nothing to grab the eye might be easy to create, but do little to ensure students engage with the important information delivered during orientation. Include photos and other images to give pages visual interest, consider using infographics to deliver complex information in more digestible forms, and alternate text with videos.

A survey by Pearson and The Harris Poll found that Gen Z students say videos are easy to follow, engaging, and relatable, and that they prefer learning from videos over textbooks. This makes videos an easy way to increase student engagement with your orientation material.

During an audit of a partner’s enrollment process, our research team saw the partner incorporated videos of current students discussing campus resources and activities (such as career services and student clubs) into their virtual orientation. The featured students then offered personal stories of how those resources and activities had enriched their time at the institution.

When creating orientation videos, rather than relying on a single narrator, use this as an opportunity to give airtime to a diverse group of faculty, staff, current students, and alumni. Not only does varying the speaker help keep students’ attention, showcasing the diversity of your institution can help new students feel like they belong. 

To ensure students retain information, include interactive elements during your orientation

Even with engaging content, it’s easy for busy students to skim through text and fast forward through videos without really taking in the content. However, many institutions have seen success by including multiple choice quizzes or requiring students to complete tasks during their online orientation experience.

Incorporating these interactive elements at regular intervals throughout the orientation process forces students to actively engage with the information in front of them before moving on to further sections, and quizzes can help preempt common mistakes students might make. Additionally, having students complete tasks, such as setting up their email account or taking a career interest assessment, can help push students to complete other key pieces of their enrollment process.

Institutions can also include opportunities for students to virtually interact with campus staff members (e.g., an advisor, financial aid officer) during their online orientation modules. Consider including a link to sign up for Zoom meetings or phone conversations with staff members in your orientation materials. This chance for a face-to-face conversation can help nudge students along in their application process and increase engagement with the institution.

Eliminate jargon to increase accessibility and clarity

While interactive elements can help ensure students understand orientation materials, the prevalence of higher education-specific jargon (e.g., “FAFSA,” “registrar,” “credit hour”) can make things more difficult for many students, particularly first-generation students who may not have exposure to higher education terminology. One study found that 70 percent of community college students were confused by higher education terms on institutional websites, while a recent survey found that 37 percent of adult learners didn’t understand their financial aid instructions because of jargon.

To help you eliminate jargon and make all your online orientation materials accessible to more students, our Eliminating Enrollment Pain Points Toolkit includes a Higher Ed Terminology Translation Exercise (pages 6-9) and a Higher-Ed Jargon Reduction Exercise (pages 10-11) for you and your staff to complete.

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