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‘Orientation without red bricks’: Miami moves orientation online

<p>With classes online, student organizations have found new ways to stay connected. </p>

With classes online, student organizations have found new ways to stay connected.

Since University President Greg Crawford announced to the Miami community on March 3o that summer orientation will be offered remotely this year, the university has been working to determine what first-year student orientation will look like come the beginning of May. 

First-year orientation is required for students before attending their first semester at Miami, for transitional purposes and mandatory course registration advising. Beginning April 1, the day after Crawford’s announcement, incoming students were able to register for an online orientation session. 

Ultimately, the university and Division of Student Life leadership decided Canvas, Miami’s online learning platform, was the best method for online orientation. The site will launch in the first part of May and be visible to students once they are registered for orientation. Certain parts of the program will also utilize Google Hangout or WebEx, the two video platforms approved by the university.

Since the announcement, Miami’s Orientation and Transition Programs (OTP) staff has been working quickly to refine what exactly orientation will look like, setting up the Canvas page and discussing other key components of the experience.

Through Canvas, students will have access to all of the information they would have received in a traditional orientation session, if not more. General topics to be covered include student conduct, campus safety, campus services and resident life. Orientation will also introduce Miami traditions like the Seal and Upham Arch. A resource fair and an introduction to Oxford will both be accessible modules as well, particularly for students who have never been to campus. 

“[We are] really thinking broadly about the inside of class, the outside of class and what it means to be joining the Miami community,” said Buffy Stoll Turton, director of OTP.

Students will need to complete the required sections of the Canvas course prior to registering for fall semester classes. When they’ve finished, they will meet one-on-one with an academic adviser in their major who will help them through the process of selecting courses. Advisers will also undergo training to ensure they are as helpful as they can be given the circumstances.

Once students have engaged in an advising session, they will schedule among a group of their peers during a live video call, where an adviser will be present if they need assistance.

This will be followed by more modules in Canvas, where OTP is still figuring out specifics and finalizing exactly what each prerequisite will look like in order to move through the orientation.

“[We are trying] to design something that is really reasonable,” Stoll Turton said. “That is engaging but not arduous.” 

During on-campus orientation, OTP employs Student Orientation Undergraduate Leaders (SOULs) to act as guides and helpful resources. While the SOULs won’t be walking first-years around campus this summer, they will still make major contributions online. 

SOULs will hold individual and group sessions where they will answer questions and provide a more personable insight into life at Miami.

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“It’s not so much like we're bringing you out [to campus], we’re kind of coming more to you now and really helping invite you to the Miami community,” said Duncan Fox, first-year accountancy major and SOUL.

Denisse Contreras, a sophomore early childhood education major and student coordinator for the SOULs, said this orientation will be different from previous ones.

“I think this year is a really unique opportunity … We get to create the same experience but in a new format,” Contreras said. “Obviously, things will be a little different, but we’re really trying to give that same quality.”

Other SOULs also remain optimistic and see the new format as potentially beneficial.

“The class of 2024 is really just going to get a really unique way to adjust to college life and slowly transition into their year with skills that took us semesters to really hone,” said Amitoj Kaur, a first-year political science major and SOUL. “[It’s] going to be really awesome to see how they utilize that.”

These SOUL sessions, along with advising and scheduling, are the only synchronous segments of the orientation, and students are free to choose the day they want to participate. 

“Our lives are so unusual right now that we want to be sensitive to what folks have going on and be as flexible as we can,” Stoll Turton said.

Because of the need to be flexible, orientation will not have the typical two-day duration. Instead, incoming students can choose when they want to complete the modules and go at their own pace, with the synchronous SOUL meetings and advising concentrated mainly in June. 

Because parents and family members do not have access to Canvas, information will be accessible to them through the Parent and Family Programs webpage. Real-time question and answer sessions and workshops will also be available throughout the summer.

While there are benefits, Stoll Turton acknowledged that moving such an integral part of the college transition process online also has its downfalls, particularly in not being able to be on campus.

“We think Miami, and we think red bricks,” Stoll Turton said. “Well, we’re going to have orientation without red bricks.” 

Fiyinfoluwa Akomolafe, a first-year and SOUL, said he is also concerned with the physical distance of this summer’s orientation. 

“My previous SOUL did a spectacular job in making me feel welcome and at ease at the school, and that helped my entire process of like, my first year,” Akomolafe said. “I worry that the incoming freshman will not be as immersed in the process because they’re not physically there.”

In an effort to stay connected with the incoming class, OTP has reestablished the Hawk Herald, a weekly newsletter email that compiles important information like answers to commonly asked questions, recommended course lists and more.

OTP is working to plan more events for the fall in addition to the traditional Welcome Weekend to help ease the move-in process for the class of 2024.