Excited. Overwhelmed. Nervous. These are just a few of the feelings that many incoming students experience at the beginning of their college journeys. Corinne O’Bryan, Transylvania’s assistant director of student success, is working to make those initial feelings more manageable — and make the amount of information that new students receive more digestible — by creating a digital course to accompany Transylvania’s First Engagements Week, a time prior to the start of each fall term that is set aside for intensive orientation activities.
O’Bryan, who has long been passionate about digital educational environments and effective digital communication, recently took classes in learning technology and the foundations of instructional design through the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. These courses helped her realize that digital learning just might be the ideal tool to help students process and retain the information they receive about their new home away from home.
“A lot of students are so overwhelmed during First Engagements week that they can’t really absorb that information,” O’Bryan noted, “so we want to present it in a way where they can go back and check. It’s really just a tool to further ensure that they are successfully onboarded to the university. It tries to supplement the stuff we’re already doing.”
The course — which will be called Fall 2023 Orientation and is offered through Canvas, a web-based learning management system — is designed to prepare incoming Pioneers for First Engagements activities, whether they are a first-year student or transferring to Transy from another institution. “We’re really trying to engage with both populations and onboard students into the Transy community whether they have been in college before or not,” O’Bryan said.
To that end, she hopes to release the course in July so that students have the opportunity to review its helpful information before move-in day on Aug. 25. While there is a preordained course path, O’Bryan deliberately designed the material to allow students to easily navigate through the information and search for the topics that they need, incorporating basic knowledge checks to reinforce learning without setting up roadblocks to course completion.
She also used the course shell as a way to centralize all of the helpful material on the Transy website. “A lot of the information was already out there,” she said. “It was just about getting it into one place in a cohesive manner.”
The digital course will encompass topics including what to expect during First Engagements week, how to build an on-campus community and what it means to attend a liberal arts institution. O’Bryan has included photos of faculty and staff members so that students can easily connect names and faces, instructions about how to join the campus Discord server and information about academic resources, giving students a leg up before they ever step foot onto campus.
“We have a lot of Transy-specific language,” O’Bryan acknowledged, citing CAPE — the university’s Center for Academic and Professional Enrichment — as one example. “We’re trying to make those connections before students even get here and onboard them into the Transy lingo.”
O’Bryan added that students who are transitioning from high school to college often struggle to know how to find help and access resources that they need. “I think the cornerstone of everything is being able to ask questions and to know who to ask,” she said. “This course fills that gap.”