The first coffee morning in the ‘Summer Series’ was held on 24th July to discuss ‘virtual induction’. This was a topic many members were keen to discuss and as such several new attendees got involved.
Initial discussions focused on the issues Network colleagues are facing over the summer and in preparing for the new term. Although members were from a range of institutions across the country, there were many common issues including:
- A lack of clarity – from both individual institutions and the government – on what the autumn term at university will look like. It appears that the majority of colleagues will be involved in blended learning, with a virtual induction being planned.
- Will all students who have accepted places actually enrol in the autumn? This is an important issue as universities are facing significant shortfalls in income, with several members reporting that their institutions have instigated voluntary severance schemes or reduced the numbers of casual staff they employ to try to balance their budgets.
- How do we engage with students virtually? This was a major concern for members given our experiences this past term with students whom we had got to know during the first part of the academic year and met face-to-face. Getting students we had not met, or would not see very often, to engage with induction and make peer support / friendship groups might be problematic. We need to encourage students to trust us and this is difficult to do online.
The discussion moved on to consider how blended approaches might work in our own institutions. Several ideas for engaging students prior to and during induction were put forward, alongside some helpful suggestions for choosing the best online platform for learning.
In terms of online platforms, the most common were MS Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts and variations of Blackboard (e.g. Ultra and Collaborate Ultra). There are benefits and issues with all of them, but the most important factors were accessibility and being able to see each other. We recognised that not all students will want to make themselves visible to their new peers during induction, especially if they are still in the family home, but we hope that they would feel comfortable doing so in a 1-2-1 with a tutor.
Ideas for induction and pre-arrival included:
- Staff intro videos – to introduce themselves to students. Making such videos short (less than 5 mins) will hopefully encourage students to watch them. It was noted that they should be personal and about developing trust and building a fruitful relationship, less about the programme and hierarchy.
- Involve new students with the university and the programme through a series of pre-arrival activities. Some members mentioned adapting existing materials for online delivery and others creating new material to provide a ‘taster’ for the foundation year. Questions were raised about how such material could be accessed, as students could not access VLEs until they have registered with the institution. Perhaps using departmental websites (with passwords) or an external site (like WordPress) might be the way forward.
- Coffee mornings and virtual drop-ins in the run up to term starting. Sessions could be weekly from the publication of A-level results; by varying the time and day of the week, most new students should be able to attend.
- ‘Meet Your Tutor’ sessions – online sessions in either small groups or 1-2-1 to meet tutors/academic advisors.
- Sending letters, postcards or a book (novel or study skills text) in the mail – ‘keeping warm’ activities.
- Sending a welcome letter via email or post. This is something most colleagues do anyway, but there is a need to adapt for current situation, perhaps removing social details and mixers, but including useful practical advice such as how the library operates in this time of social distancing.
Finally, we discussed issues with teaching online and problems we as practitioners have had, and those that students, especially mature students living at home and not on campus might have. As we were all thrown into online delivery and rushed into doing our best with what we had, we are aware that students were quite forgiving of issues we had during the previous term. However, in the new academic year, incoming students might not be as supportive if technological issues persist or sessions are unclear. Students will often forgive poor video, but not poor audio. It was noted that during induction, issues with technology might discourage some students, so we need to consider alternatives and what could be asynchronous rather than synchronous to allow for greater flexibility.
Thanks to all who participated online and via Twitter; continue the debate #fyncoffeechat
Please join us at our next coffee morning on ‘Teaching STEM – online and blended support’ on July 29th at 12 noon.