Around the globe, students have faced significant disruption and uncertainty stemming from the Covid-19 crisis, and for those about to be introduced to university life, the prospect might seem pretty daunting.
While on-campus teaching has resumed to a large extent, it’s likely that your first term will see a mix of in-person and online activities. You’ll be expected to slot into a ‘hybrid’ world, where you need to use tech to engage with your peers and teachers, as well as in a classroom situation. And that might be challenging, especially as you settle into your studies.
So, what should you expect from your university in these important first few months? How can your teachers and support staff help you feel connected, supported and set up for success as you embark on this new chapter in your learning?
In 2020, welcoming and orientation activities were shifted to the online space, and it was tricky for institutions to gauge student engagement. This term, it’s likely that while lots of activity will be back on campus, some activities will remain online, so it’s possible that newly-enrolled students could still face disconnection or confusion about what they are meant to be doing.
But there are things universities can do to help. From virtual icebreakers to online socials, look out for initiatives which are designed to welcome new students with a bang. And of course, beyond getting you settled socially, a good orientation process will create a clear learning pathway – showing you what you can expect from the term ahead, what you’ll learn and how you’ll do it.
If you’re unsure what’s being provided, or finding it hard to access resources, then it’s important to ask. Look over earlier communications for contact info – or get in touch with library staff – they are a font of knowledge and will know who’s who!
Not all university students arrive directly from sixth form studies; however, a significant proportion of them do. The transition phase from school to higher education has long been recognised as tricky, and Covid-19 has been especially disruptive to students in their final year of school, with many having exams delayed, cancelled or conducted remotely.
In light of this, universities are working hard to find innovative ways of not just supporting their current intake, but attracting and encouraging potential undergraduate students. You might have found that your uni engaged with you before you started – right the way from your application being accepted (or even before) to your first day on campus. The best institutions find ways to be in close contact with you – all the way through your learning journey – and particularly as you make the transition between school and university.
Of course, it’s likely to take a while to settle into your studies, and you shouldn’t worry if you don’t feel entirely comfortable immediately. But your institution should be helping you track your progress, right from the start, helping you to identify if there are areas where you night need extra support.
And your teaching staff will be just as well versed in how you’re getting on – using tech to understand how you’re engaging with your studies, where you’re excelling or struggling, and how they can support you to get the most out of your course. Of course, communication should be two way – and you can use these same channels to ask questions, respond to feedback or to let someone know if you’re feeling stuck or unsure.
So, successful induction and orientation, just like other student-centred initiatives, are notoriously difficult to support, especially at scale. That’s why universities around the globe are using a variety of ed tech in what they refer to as their digital learning ecosystem. In addition to learning management systems to provide course information and assessment items, you can expect a variety of tools that help support and record your learning activity, and the best ones used well will help keep you feeling connected and on track, whether you’re studying on or off campus.
It’s important to look out for the tech tools your uni is using to support you, particularly in these first few months, and make sure you’re getting the most from them. Ultimately, the closer you’re connected with your institution, the better you’re likely to do and the happier you’ll be.