With the rise in Covid-19 cases and Level 3 restrictions placed on Dublin the week before orientation, faculty and the Student Union had to do some quick-thinking to facilitate a cosy landing for the incoming freshers. The main question we put to the first years – did online work?
Most interviewed students stated that they would have much preferred an on-campus orientation. Many students, like Róisín Travers, said that she felt the introduction gave them a good glimpse as to what online learning would be like for them and were happy to get the chance to familiarise themselves with the DCU Students’ Union (SU) and Loop.
Similarly, events from clubs and societies helped students get a feel for life outside their course. “It helped me get a foot in the door,” said Erin Murphy about the informative Zooms.
The lack of interaction between students seemed like the main feature that affected their enjoyment. The “ragged Virtual Neighbourhood” felt too open and students found it “mildly ineffective” due to the vast number of messages that were uploaded to each forum.
DCUSU worked quickly for this and created the Freshers 2020 Instagram page. It quickly built up traction and became a hotspot for students to get in contact with their classmates and get to know each other in group-chats and on social media.
A Fresher from the DCU Journalism course dubbed the Instagram page as a “gamechanger” as now they could interact with students about the orientation, get to know one another and discuss any issues they might need some help with.
Furthermore, the Instagram social page was the most frequent positive feedback mentioned by Freshers about this year’s orientation, and some have said how pleased they were to have been able to use such an easy mode of communication to get into contact with the students on their course.
DCUSU VP for Engagment and Development, Dylan Mangan, explained the idea behind the page.
“From my time spent as Chair of the Media Production Society, I had noticed that each year, less and less First Years had Facebook accounts… I insisted we do away with Facebook almost entirely, and put more of a focus on Instagram” said Mangan.
He went onto say that after working with groups for two years of orientation, he had seen the positive affect it had for students to comfortably land in university life.
“I feel like the page has been helpful not only for students to access each other, but for us as a [Union] team to access First Years with important information” Mangan said.
The Digital Edge course was provided by the faculty so that students could “thrive at university in the ‘new normal’,” and help “build the skills” they needed to get the most out of university learning, as described by the course overview.
This two-week course would span over the duration of the orientation and provided an insight, through written articles, studies, and voice overs, from current DCU students on how to learn and study from home, through an online environment.
With the news of the first semester being primarily online, the course helped facilitate a comfort for first year students who might not have done online learning before.
Students who were interviewed said they found that the difficulty surrounding Zoom meetings and navigating Loop affected their enjoyment at the beginning of the week and made them anxious to what they could be missing out on.
One student, Jamil Bhaloo, said that often two or more events would be held concurrently, and so students would have to decide which Zoom meeting to join.
When an idea of a blended orientation experience was brought up by some interviewed freshers, many of them stated that they had been frustrated to hear that they would miss out on their on-campus induction.
As much as students understood the reasoning to the cancellations, they still wished that it had been somewhat more facilitated, as seen in other institutions.
Ella Cocoman, a first year from Trinity College in Dublin, told me about her blended orientation experience. She found the on-campus activities to be much more beneficial towards getting to know her peers and classmates.
Alongside their on-campus activities, their course coordinators facilitated multiple events through Zoom, like an online meet-and-greet with Second Year students from the same course.
Students from the School of Computing in DCU however did get their on-campus induction experience. One student said that some students were unamused to find out that they would be isolated in their pods while their coordinators introduced themselves on Zoom.
For the Computer Applications course, it was said that 50 per cent of students were from outside of Dublin and that some had even commuted from early hours of the morning to get on campus.
Although the computing students got the experience of the labs and resources, those who commuted were frustrated as they could have participated at home and suggested that this should have been an option they were offered in the emailed itinerary.
Furthermore, the wearing of face-coverings and the two-meter social distancing guidelines meant that socialising with classmates was difficult.
Many of the computing students said they enjoyed the environment of being in a classroom or lab again although the restrictions and guidelines made it difficult for people to converse with each other during the day.
Although there were some technical difficulties at the beginning of the week; overall, the online orientation was widely regarded as a huge success.
Students from the Journalism course stated that they felt as though they had made close friends when they had yet to even meet each other in person.
Most students interviewed, said they were pleased that they could get into contact with people through group chats, one student said that it was great to “get a feel for the type of atmosphere” that will be around their group.
As for the VP’s opinion on how orientation went, Mangan is proud of the SU’s efforts.
“I know orientation was very tough for both students and staff… Despite the difference in the way it looked this year, I’m proud of the work the [SU] team put into Orientation, and I can only hope the students see the benefit of some of the things we helped run” said Mangan.
“The level of enthusiasm and optimism the student cohort has shown despite [the situation]” Mangan said was something that amazed him especially considering all the complications.
In a time like the current pandemic, the power of social media and the internet is really shown through events like this year’s online orientation. The consensus of students was that they said online did work, with the Freshers Instagram page being a key-player.
Image Credit: Sathishaa Mohan