Online Orientation Jumpstarts Community for New Students

A screenshot of the online orientation portal at St. Mike's includes information listings and a photo of a group of students

When the Office of the Dean of Students started developing an online orientation program early this summer in response to the pandemic, they had no idea how popular the program would become. Over 800 incoming St. Mike’s students have enrolled in the program so far, over a hundred more than the average number of participants in Orientation Week on campus in recent years—and not only are they enrolling in greater numbers, but those who enroll are spending large amounts of time on the site as well, Campus Life Coordinator Emma Graham says.  

The system recreates an essential part of campus life for incoming students in a time when it’s not possible to gather in person, making it possible for participants to start experiencing the school’s hallmark community in a safe way before the fall term begins. 

When developing the online orientation systemGraham and her team of current students aimed to capture three essential content areasinformational content, providing incoming students with everything they need to know before starting their university careers; the physical space, so students will be able to properly orient themselves on campus when they visit; and community. While all three parts were essential to this year’s orientation strategy, the last content in particular helps to account for the program‘s success with the incoming class.  

Hosted on Quercus, the University of Toronto’s online teaching and learning environment, St. Michael’s online orientation comprises 12 modules spread over 48 pages. The content includes 37 videos featuring St. Michael’s students and professors. St. Mike’s student and Online Orientation Executive Natalie Barbuzzi took the lead in developing the informational content for the modules, which launched in early June. 

“The modules were created to be as accessible as possible,” Barbuzzi says, mentioning topics ranging from financial aid to mental health and student life. The goal was to create a “one-stop shop” for information to help new students make a successful transition into university, which includes information on ways students can get involved in clubs and other activitiesThe material will remain available on Quercus after the academic year starts, making it a resource new students can return to as their university careers develop.  

Additionally, in conjunction with weekly Q&A sessions and international student webinars for new students offered by the Office of the Registrar, Orientation Coordinators and St. Michael’s students Jessica Sorbara and Cianna Choo developed an itinerary of twice-weekly synchronous Summer Workshop sessions meant to offer opportunities for incoming students to connect with each other and foster community. 

“We got the chance to host some amazing sessions with our incoming students about getting involved at SMC, international student experiences, study tips and time management, some insider tips on the best wasy to explore Toronto during this unusal time and more,” Choo says. The workshops included how-tos on things like using public transit and talking to professors—essential, practical skills for any new student, but not ones they’re likely to ask around about. â€śAs a team, we all took a moment reflect on our own experiences in first year and tried to think of some things that we would have loved to know in advance of our first year at UofT,” Sorbara says. 

The final phase of Online Orientation will begin the first full week of September, when Orientation Week is traditionally scheduled. Divided into groups as they would be for an in-person orientation, new students will have the opportunity to get to know their new classmates while participating in a bevy of online events including movie nights, games, informational sessions, socials with students and faculty, virtual tours, and an online version of Kelly’s Korner 

The connections students are making in advance of the fall term will continue after Orientation concludesThe Mentorship program will kick off with a special social event September 3, and a Clubs Fair will follow later in the month


Students who still wish to register for St. Mike’s Orientation 2020 can do so at www.stmikesorientation.comConsult Fall 2020 for current updates on St. Michael’s plans for the fall semester.