It may be Summer, but you and I (and our colleagues) work at least three months out– so “Happy Fall” to you. While we may still be wrapping up last year, it’s time to plan out the upcoming academic term.
This Fall will be like no previous term. Most students and faculty will be returning to campus, many for the first time since the Spring of 2020. And you’ll have a double dose of First Year Students: you’ll have those true freshmen who are just starting college, and you’ll have those returning students who began study during the pandemic. Neither of these two groups have had what we might consider a true “college experience” of activities and engagement.
Your campus administration, or for some schools the state or local government, will determine how “open” your campus will be. Some schools may still be mostly virtual, while other schools may recall the pre-pandemic era. We know it will be challenging, but we also know that most students are ready to be back on campus. They will be looking to get engaged with student life. Let’s hope they will appreciate the programs and events that they used to take for granted.
So how do we ease back into live events? It will be a multi-factored process. Also, since the actual beginning the Fall term is several months away, everything is still fluid. However, most of the statistical indicators and medical experts suggest that the coronavirus pandemic will continue in decline.
The Season is Your Friend
We can be confident that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations will include being outside. Take advantage of the fresh air and the seasonal climate of Fall to take your programs outside.
This is a prime opportunity to evaluate your campus for new outdoor venues and performance sites. You may already have a courtyard or patio where you’ve done programs in the past. Plan on utilizing these spaces by scheduling many of your programs and events there.
Perhaps you haven’t done outdoor events much in thepast. Perhaps students congregated in the student center, the cafeteria, or the lobby of the student union and you did programs there. It’s time for a new default location.
Take a stroll around your campus, and look for those spots where you could present a program. There are a lot of elements to consider.
New & Improved Outdoor Venues
First, find a space where students naturally gather. It’s pretty simple. Students will hang out where they feel most comfortable. If you’re in a hot climate, it might be a shaded area. If you’re in a cooler latitude, it might be a sunny space.
Second, observe the traffic patterns. You might want to present these outdoor programs and events where there are a lot of students walking. It makes sense if you think about it. Let your students help determine the locations.
When I was in college, the university built a new classroom building near the middle of campus. They built one sidewalk to the building, and waited. By the end of the term, there were clear, well-worn paths where students walked from other buildings to the new building. The next semester the school paved those paths. They had let the students determine the sidewalk locations without even asking them. Brilliant.
Last, check out the infrastucture. Nearly all programs need electricity. Where is the closest outlet? Be aware that outdoor outlets may be kept off, or on a timer. If so, find out how to get them turned on and test them now. Also look for water lines, if your program might require running water.
Welcome Back Week
You are likely already thinking about those wonderful “Welcome Week” events from the past, those annual traditions we look forward to each Fall. Some of them make look a bit different this year. That cookout may require more sophisticated food handling than in the past. You may have just offered pans of burgers and hot dogs for the students to serve themselves. This year, you may have to have servers putting burgers and dogs in buns, wrapping them, and then serving students fast-food style. You may also need single-serve condiments instead of sharing squeeze bottles. Chips may need to be individual packages. Same with desserts. Start thinking now about how your “Welcome Week” may need to be revised.
Activities Fair, Club Rush, Involvement Expo
Your clubs and organizations need your Involvement Fair more than ever. Those clubs who have managed to hang on through the pandemic drastically need new members. Club membership has likely taken a hit because of all the restrictions on social gatherings and events. Everyone needs to recruit.
But don’t forget all those incoming (and “returning”) first-year students. They are excited to be on campus, and they want to get involved. These students want to connect, and feel like they are a part of the campus community. Your clubs and organizations provide that outlet, and the opportunity for students to become engaged.
If you are still dealing with distancing concerns in the Fall, here is a simple way to keep students apart. Instead of providing each club with a single table for their materials and information, give each group two tables one in front of the other. That makes that typical threefoot table become a six-foot deep table, and provides the recommended distance for safe
Marketing and Promotion
While your students may be back on campus IRL (in real life), we still need to market to them virtually. We’ve all been living online for over a year, and we’re not going to stop looking at screens any time soon.
Make sure you are utilizing your social media to the max. If you aren’t using HootSuite.com, you seriously need to check it out. With HootSuite, you link all of your social media– Instagram, Twitter, Facebook– to this single account. Then you can open the HootSuite app or login on your computer and update all of your social media at one time.
There are two things I love most about HootSuite. First, I don’t have to go from app to app to update my status or make a post on all my different social media accounts. I can do it all from one single app or webpage. Second (and I love this the most), I can schedule posts in advance. I don’t have to remember to update my status at 4 pm and remind students of an event coming up. I can schedule the update with HootSuite, and it just rolls out automatically and on time.
Old School Effective Promotion
When students hit campus in the Fall, there may be a heightened awareness of their surroundings. That means you can ulitize some traditional marketing even more effectively. Let’s talk about posters and flyers.
Be smart with your printed promo. Understand that the first few times students see a poster they actually look at it. After two or three exposures, it becomes wall paper. Here are two easy ways to get students to read your posters.
One: make it a challenge. Have you ever seen the famous psychedelic posters for concerts from the ’60s? Intricate writing, scrawling visuals, beautiful art– not just block letters. Do a quick image search for “Fillmore Ballroom Posters” on line. See what I mean? Beautiful art, and intriguing to read.
Or maybe you could take your usual posters and hang them upside down! Or this: print out your poster in a mirror image, backwards reversed, like Leonardo Di Vinci’s famous notebooks. That makes them a challenge to read, and that means when students read them, they will remember them.
Two: refresh your posters. When you refresh your posters, students see them like the first time. They stop being wall paper and stand out. Perhaps you could put up your posters for a couple of days, then go back and turn them all upside down. Then a day later put them all back upright again. Or try this: on the day of a program or event print out bumper-sticker size strips that read “TODAY!” or “TONIGHT!” and paste them on all the old posters. Because you’ve refreshed them, they will stand out to students again.
Learning Outcomes and Assessment
We’ve gotten spoiled with our virtual events over the past year. With one click, you can see how many students were logged in to the program. It’s much more difficult to do that with a live event.
You should always have learning outcomes for your events and programs. I mean all of them, not just those that are obviously educational, like training or a speaker. You should create student learning outcomes for your comedy shows, your concerts, your novelty programs with take-aways, every program should have a learning outcome.
Your campus likely seeks to adhere to one of the student development models such as the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Education (known as CAS), Learning Reconsidered from the National Association of Student Personel Administrators, or another source. Student Development theory looks at how we want students to grow and develop during their college experience.
Your programs and events actually help students grow in specific areas of student development. I’ve written extensively about this, and there is a lot of information about it in the “Resources” page of my website (DelSuggs.com).
Develop Student Learning Outcomes for your programs to validate the important role that your office plays on campus. You can demonstrate that attending a comedy show on campus helps to develop humanitarianism, the appreciation of other cultures. Attending and participating in a novelty event helps in the development of interpersonal competence.
Develop your learning outcomes and be able to demonstrate your students’ mastery. Student development is a vital function of higher education, and you are making that happen.
Live events are simply a vital means of getting students engaged. We know from the work of the National Survey on Student Engagement at Indiana University that engaged students are retained students. Engaged students have a higher graduation rate.
Your office creates student engagement. In these times, where enrollment may be falling and budgets may be slashed, you need to be validating your work.
Take it Easy
This Fall maybe frantic, with excited and active students. You can provide the opportunities that students need to connect with your campus comunity and become engaged.
Be prepared for all that’s coming. Now is the time to get ready with your planning and scheduling. Create your student learning outcomes for your programs and events. Get the acts booked. Start the marketing and promotion. Get those students engaged!
In the end, you may be seeing a “new normal” that is the best of both the virtual and the live campus events. Even with the return to live events, we’ll still have a virtual element, whether it’s streaming a live event for students who can’t attend, or using all of the adopted technology to market our in-person shows!
Get ready now, and use your new-found knowledge to ease back into live events.