Northeast corner of Hough Hall with students walking by.

Giving online students a home

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As Warrington offers more flexibility through the UF MBA program, the College wanted to help online students feel like members of The Gator Nation.

UF MBA recently introduced an online program that requires zero campus visits, which created a challenge for Warrington’s Teaching and Learning Center – how do you make students feel at home in a location they’ve never visited?

The answer came through a shift in orientation. Before the fully online program was introduced, all UF MBA students came to campus to go through orientation. However, as UF MBA wanted to offer more flexible programming, the shift to a fully online program option meant some students would never step foot on campus. The challenge was to make them feel connected to the sights and sounds of the University of Florida, Warrington and UF MBA staff members without ever seeing campus in person.

“Feeling like you are a part of a community is key to any student’s experience and can be missed if students are simply going through a boring orientation that tells them solely how to check their holds or who registers them for classes” said Megan Leroy, Director of the Teaching and Learning Center. “The student experience is much bigger than that. We want to show students that we care about them, their careers, and their experience at Warrington”

Instructional Designer Staci Graff and Leroy set out to create a plan with Shane Van Deree, Academic Program Specialist for UF MBA Student Experience. They built an online orientation website, providing students with every important detail they would gain from an on-campus orientation.

But Graff, Leroy and Van Deree wanted to take orientation beyond rote information. To share the Warrington experience, they took a camera around campus to film informational orientation videos from iconic settings on campus. Students hear from important voices in the UF MBA program as they see Ben Hill Griffin stadium, the O’Dome, the Plaza of the Americas, and others. The team also recorded Van Deree’s entire campus tour (a common experience for on-campus students) with a 360 camera to provide the full – albeit virtual – experience for online students.

Every video had a goal –help students feel the energy of a football game, show them the best spots to study if they visit campus, or explain to them the importance of icons like Century Tower. Every detail had a purpose.

“We want students to feel like they’re a Business Gator before they even start their first class,” Graff said. “We think an orientation site that builds student identity from the first moment they start at UF both makes those students feel at home and  increases their involvement from places all over the map.”

The webpage was built to mirror UF MBA’s branding and continue its goal to give students a similar experience from when they first request information about the program to the day they receive their diploma. The online orientation plays an important role in that progression.

“You don’t remember everything from the logistical side of your college orientation,” Leroy said. “You remember the t-shirt you got, the places you saw on campus and the people you met. We didn’t want that part of the orientation experience to be neglected because it was online. On campus or online, UF Business Gators should feel like Warrington is their home.”