Orientation

These are random notes directed only at myself, notes that provide reminders of how things went and where things might be improved. Continuous improvement requires continuous documentation of what happened.


The morning started off well enough, with Sebastian warming up the crowd. The morning would, however, continue on with on the order of three hours of information overload. In faculty workshops the faculty have learned that our students, who are working in a second language, cannot absorb information over a three hour long session.

The next day I had the opportunity to ask a student some questions on areas that were covered in the morning session, but the student was unable to answer those questions. Too much information delivered in a manner that did not well fit the learning style and capacities of the audience.

The format also did not provide a comfort zone for many of the students to ask questions. The next day I fielded a number of questions - there is a need to deliver some information in smaller groups or even one-on-one, provide that space in which the student can feel safe to ask a question. The large group layout was problematic. If perhaps the students were at tables and at each table was a peer coach or other staff or even faculty member, some questions could have been fielded more privately even while a speaker was presenting to the students.


While in the past the gym setup included tables and a faculty-freshmen lunch mixer, this year no tables and no lunches for faculty. No invitation to faculty. I invited myself to the freshmen lunch. Without tables, however, the freshmen took their lunches to find somewhere to spread out and eat.


The freshmen exited in force.


The lunches arrived late and in batches, one single van ferrying the batches. On the order of three or more trips were required, each time more students heading out of the practice gym. There was an awkwardness to this batching process that felt problematic. In a local event here, which can have hundreds to feed, food is distributed only when all the food is available and sufficient to feed everyone. This distribution of food is one of the more amazing aspects of life here. Not in batches, but in a single fell swoop.


Students leaving the orientation.


Finding a place to eat meant seeking out floor space. Note the structure of the social space: as a faculty member I could not have inserted myself into that group to join them for lunch and a chance to get to know each other.


Or bench space. One of the cultural traditions here is to take food home to family. At many local functions, the passing out of food is also a signal that one is free to go.


Thus I was not surprised to see only half of the students present for the afternoon session.


The emptiness was palpable in the room. Having lectured at them for three hours, few wanted to be there for the afternoon session.

I recall a year where the peer coaches were essentially in charge. A week of activities, field trips, games, competition, camaraderie. A week of building connections, friendships, understandings. A week of  building a sense of support for each other, for lifting up their fellow student when they fall down.

I also remember faculty-freshmen lunches, sitting at tables getting to know students, connecting with them. A key component of addressing a CCSSE identified area of weakness in faculty-student interactions. As faculty had not been invited for lunch, I was the only faculty member there. With no tables, I felt I was intruding to insert myself in the floor circles which had formed to eat the lunch.

The next day was freshmen registration. Usually the peer coaches assisted their freshmen with registering. This year, however, many of the freshman had been registered during early registration. This left only a few to be registered at freshmen registration, thus the peer coaches were potentially not necessary. That said, other activities could have been engaged in with the already registered freshmen.

Orientation should be about more than conveying the policies and procedures. At the end of orientation a student should feel that they are a shark, a supported and valued member of the college family, welcomed to a new home in their life.

During the Tuesday afternoon tour the students were traipsed around a rather empty campus. I managed to waylay a couple of the groups and redirect the group over to a cycad which is sporting a brand new cone. Cycads look like a palm tree, but are conifers that produce cones. When I parted the leaves to reveal the cone, the students were surprised and said so. They were visibly surprised. Some took photos of the cone. The students saw something new, that they had not seen before, and maybe had a story to take home.


While faculty are perhaps likely to be reluctant to add to their workload, having a few faculty out in the classrooms and around the campus to engage with the freshmen, show them something about the field the faculty member loves, would benefit the freshmen.

Everything that could be improved is a learning experience and the college is indeed a learning entity, I am confident that the college will take the lessons learned and redevelop freshmen orientation to the benefit of future freshmen.

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