First Blended FYP Orientation Begins
For the first time, AUC’s First-Year Program (FYP) for incoming students will be blended this fall.
The integrated orientation will be mostly virtual with two days of face-to-face interaction on campus that includes the Engagement Fair as well as other on-ground activities, where students will be divided into small cohorts who come to campus on different days. New additions to FYP this year include sessions on IT solutions and services as well as combatting sexual harassment, YouVisit virtual tour, AUC-Connect hub and a pre-orientation guide for students to use throughout the year.
“This makes FYP distinctive this time not only because it is mostly online due to the pandemic, but also because it is a hybrid orientation done for the first time in Egypt,” said Dina Wahdan, electronics and communications engineering student and FYP president. “This year, we are focusing on the transitioning of first-year students in all academic aspects as well as their personal development and engaging them with the AUC community.”
How It’s Done Virtually
For starters, the orientation consists of two online days and two days on campus. The online days will be mostly held on Zoom and will provide incoming students with all information they need, while still including online activities that will help them engage with their Peer Leaders and colleagues. The on-ground days will include some activities along with the Engagement Fair, in which students get the chance to sign up for their preferred clubs.
New additions this year include a session on IT solutions and services, since the semester will be hybrid, and a separate health insurance session for new international students. FYP also launched a pre-orientation guide this year that doesn’t only help incoming students during orientation, but is also available for them all year long. “The guide includes information about what makes AUC distinctive as a liberal arts University, policies, facilities and all what students need to know about AUC,” Wahdan added.
The guide was delivered asynchronously in advance of the dates of the virtual component with readings and assignments in a flipped-class mode. “This better ensures that FYP students are prepared and ready to engage with other students on day one of the virtual component,” said Ahmed Zain, student development manager at the Office of the Dean of Students.
The incoming students are divided into smaller batches this year, where all students will be required to use AUC Connect — a hub that connects sessions and participants to ensure effective, user-friendly and interactive learning, as it will include the orientation schedule, individual student sections and all Zoom links according to group numbers. Each virtual class section will include 16 new students rather than 25, while students will be divided in virtual breakout rooms to work independently and present their work to their peers.
“The Peer Leaders are currently trained to use Zoom and features such as breakout rooms, polls and chat to create lively, interactive sessions,” said Zain. “An important new feature of the orientation this year is the AUC-Connect app, which hosts [everything] in a friendly and interactive platform. This helps students navigate things and engage with their peers more easily.”
After the orientation ends, all incoming students will be required —for the first time — to take a quiz to test what they grasped during the orientation and point out areas that need further development. Students are also required to fill out a survey after completing the orientation, where they assess their overall experience and write their feedback on all aspects of the program, including content, activities and any technical issues they faced. “All of this … shows how we as a team go beyond [what’s required], even in these circumstances, and this is what makes us distinctive,” explained Wahdan.
Train the Trainers
Before starting the virtual orientation, the FYP team conducted focus groups, where 70 students from the incoming class volunteered to attend and test the system that will be used throughout the program, providing their feedback and thoughts on how to facilitate the process and enrich the experience for both students and the FYP team. “The thorough feedback we have requested from first-year students and Peer Leaders enabled us to enhance the experience on both ends,” said Wahdan.
The FYP student orientation team is made up of 140 Peer Leaders who volunteer their time to help set incoming students on the right path and familiarize them with the AUC experience. An important addition to FYP this year is training the Peer Leaders different to deliver the best quality of service, given the COVID-19 situation. AUC’s Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT) trained Peer Leaders on how to provide interactive virtual sessions using new software programs, building on the experience of AUC faculty during the Spring 2020 semester. “The FYP team modified the orientation’s content to best align with the new blended learning format, including reconceiving the in-class games in a virtual format to provide the same high-quality experience that new students expect from AUC,” said Zain.
The FYP Core Leadership used CLT’s Training of Trainers model to train Peer Leaders on navigating different online learning tools such as Zoom, Blackboard and Moodle. One-to-one sessions were also provided for the Peer Leaders.
In addition, sessions on combating sexual harassment have been integrated into the integrated orientation this fall, familiarizing students with how to address the definition of sexual harassment, ways to report a perceived instance of sexual harassment and measures taken by AUC to protect those who report such incidents. Peer Leaders will also inform incoming students of different resources at AUC that could help victims of sexual harassment. Following the session, a quiz will be taken to measure gains in awareness among FYP students. There will also be a follow up with further awareness sessions for anyone performing poorly on the quiz.
It’s Still Fun
“Just because sessions are online doesn’t preclude being fun and exciting,” affirmed Zain. “Online training can be engaging if facilitators are trained to design student-centered activities in small group settings.”
Thus, the Office of Student Life has designed the Engagement Fair take place on the third day of the FYP orientation, split over two days in tandem with the FYP schedule, in three different locations, to decrease the number of students on campus at any point in time. More areas of the campus are being used so that students are spread out to the greatest extent, and all activities take place outdoors. FYP also designed additional on-campus engagement activities that will supplement and enhance the experience of students who are being introduced to the New Cairo campus for the first time.
Virtual Campus Tour
The YouVisit virtual tour is a new feature of the FYP experience this fall, where a Student Ambassador will join the tour virtually to narrate the full experience.
“As FYP president, I constantly make it a point to keep my team motivated and to not only remind them of our purpose as an entity, but also to make them aware that our attempt to make this orientation succeed makes us unique, given the current circumstances,” Wahdan said. “To me, FYP is the most important phase where incoming students truly attempt to engage with University life. Although this pandemic has caused the world to slow down, we have come to see that with dedication, passion and a collective effort, nothing is impossible and impact can be made even with the smallest gestures.”