All across the country, student affairs professionals are trying to figure out how to move their services online. Appointments for things like academic advising and counselling are being moved to Zoom or some other video-conferencing tool. Some writing centres are simply asking students to email them their papers; they’ll send them back with comments in a few days. Libraries are ensuring students are well aware of the resources they already offer online. We’re figuring out how to move our normal offerings online.
Except this isn’t a normal time, and as students transition to learning online, to social distancing and self-isolation, they may need more than just our typical avenues of support. How can we be proactive in providing students with support and care through this time?
Well, I have a few ideas.
Virtual Pet Café
Everyone loves the on-campus pet café, or pet therapy sessions. It’s light-hearted fun, it’s cuteness galore, and it’s a source of stress-relief for many. Bring the idea of Pet Café online!
How to: Choose a time and set up a video-conference room using Zoom, Bluejeans, Skype, or whatever software your institution is using. Promote the event, and send students the link to the room. During the session, have any attendee with a pet introduce said pet to everyone else! It really is that simple.
Fitness classes via Facebook/Instagram Live
Just because our students are stuck inside and can’t go to the gym doesn’t mean they should give up exercise! In fact, getting off the couch/bed/chair and getting a little exercise is probably exactly what many students need to help with the stress and anxiety inherent in the world today.
How-to: Connect with a certified fitness instructor who is able to run a class that doesn’t require any equipment. Yoga, ballet barre, or even Zumba might be good examples. Have them teach a class alone in their own home or empty fitness studio, and stream it live on Facebook and/or Instagram!
Students can no longer study with the ambient noise of the library or coffee shop behind them, and by this point, their go-to Spotify playlists are probably getting a little old. Why not make them a new one? Create and share study playlists, coffee-shop-background-noise playlists, workout playlists, etc. For some extra student engagement, ask students to help you create a playlist by submitting song suggestions via Instagram Stories (or some other method).
How to: Spotify has instructions on how to create a playlist. Then it’s just up to you to promote!
Daily anchor bingo
Normally, our daily life consists of a number of different anchors- things that we do each day that are consistent, and help us feel grounded. This might include our morning shower, our class schedule, and our Wednesday night fitness class. COVID-19 and social distancing have thrown most of our daily anchors out the window. Daily anchor bingo can help students develop new anchors and positive behaviours that will help them navigate online learning and living in a time of social distancing successfully.
How-to: This one is a little more complicated, so we’re going to explain in step-by-step format.
- Start by creating a list of 20-24 behaviours that would help students be successful (you could probably create a staff version too, if you wanted!). These might include items such as: create a study schedule, shower and get dressed in the morning, set up a dedicated study space in your home, form a study group with classmates, participate in Instagram Live fitness class, call a friend for 30 minutes, cook a nutritious meal, tidy up your computer’s file system, and more.
- Create a handout that outlines what you mean by each of the behaviours, providing students with additional tips and guidance.
- Create a blank bingo card with a quick list of the behaviours below. Students who want to participate can fill in the bingo card, putting items in whichever box they want.
- Every day, do a draw to see which behaviour is that day’s “behaviour of the day.” Students will then complete the item (i.e. they will call a friend for 30 minutes that day) and then cross off that box on their bingo card.
- The first students to get one full line (or maybe make it two full lines?) wins! (Although I would highly recommend continuing until you’ve gone through all the behaviours anyway!)
- For added engagement, encourage students to share their bingo cards and daily behaviours on social media!
Group study rooms
Sure, students could take it upon themselves to create online study groups, but they won’t always, and there are always going to be students who don’t know anyone in their classes… or who don’t know how to contact each other now that they’re not seeing each other in person! Facilitating an easy way for students to gather online to study together is relatively easy, but could make a huge difference for a student. There are lots of ways to approach this: Create online study rooms that are always available for students, or set specific times for specific classes (you could work with programs and professors to set this up!). Provide students with instructions about best practices for online study groups, and with links to extra online tools that might help (i.e. a chemistry or math study group might want an online whiteboard tool to help them work out equations).
Even if you aren’t providing the online space for group study, providing students with tips and resources could still be helpful!
How-to: Start by figuring out exactly how you want this to look. Set up a webpage describing how this will work, listing study group times and providing links to appropriate video-conferencing room (most institutions have opted-in to a specific video-conferencing tool, often Zoom, Bluejeans, Skype or Blackboard Collaborate). Include best practices and additional resources on this webpage as well.
Scrabble tournaments (or other games)
There are lots of online games and apps that require one-on-one competition. Scrabble (or Words With Friends) is just one example. But why not capitalize on these games for a little friendly competition?
How-to: Have students sign up for the competition, and then facilitate pairings. You can structure the tournament however you choose: round-robin, single-round elimination, best-of-three, etc. Give students a time limit in which they have to complete their game so that you can move on to the next round efficiently!
*Note: Before you try this, make sure you understand any privacy implications related to the app you have chosen- and make sure you share those privacy implications with your students!
Not everyone will want to be actively engaged in an activity, but this is a time where we need community more than ever. Provide students with a few opportunities to simply hang out together online and chat about whatever is on their mind. Maybe they’ll share at home study tips, maybe they will complain about their new course format, maybe they’ll talk about how Frozen 2 came out early on Disney+. Really, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’re providing a place for community to exist.
How-to: There’s almost no set-up required for this one. Choose a time, set up a video-conferencing room, and off you go! I would recommend having a few facilitation ideas in hand to get the conversation started, but really, let students take this any direction they want!
COVID-19 group counselling
For many students, in the span of just one week, their classes have moved online, they’ve moved out of residence and back home with their parents, they can no longer go out and spend time with their friends… the last week has been a lot. For many students, it may be overwhelming. So why not give them a dedicated space to talk about it? I would strongly recommend you recruit someone from Counselling Services to help with this, as they are probably best suited to facilitate and navigate these conversations!
How-to: Similar to the community hangouts, there’s not a whole lot of prep for this one. Find a member of Counselling Services who is willing to host, choose a time, set up a video-conferencing room, and promote!
Social media content
If you run social media accounts, this is a great time for contests, user-generated content, and those Instagram Q&A stickers and polls. Ask students, staff and/or faculty to share their new remote learning set-ups. Ask them to share their study tips, work-from-home tips, and strategies for staying socially connected to their friends and family. Run polls about their work set-up (desk, kitchen table, couch, or bed? PC, Mac, dual monitor, cell phone?), the best platform to binge-watch content on (Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+?) and other fun ideas. Provide students with information about online resources via the poll function. Folks, social media, especially Instagram Stories, is made for this.
How-to: While you could come up with ideas randomly, I would recommend sitting down and developing a social media plan for the next few weeks. Try to make your content as cohesive and consistent as possible. If you’re not familiar with Instagram’s various sticker features, check out the “Using stickers on Instagram” guide.
Random Kind Mail generator
In recent years, alumni offices across the country have started Kind Mail campaigns. Alumni are asked to send in messages of support for students, which are then transcribed onto postcards and handed out to students on campus during stressful times, such as exams. Obviously, campaigns like this can’t happen this year. But what if we took photos of all of the Kind Mail, and created a random photo generator that students could access? The webpage would simply show one photo, and therefore one message, at a time. When you click “new photo,” you get a new photo, with a new message.
How-to: You’re going to need to talk to someone with more computer knowledge than me to learn how to do this one. But I do know it’s possible! Check out validatingponies.com for an example!
Online learning workshops
Many departments run workshops throughout the year. These may be study skills workshops, time management workshops, résumé and cover letter workshops, you name it. While it may be easy to run some of these workshops online (and you should!), think about what workshops might be helpful to students right now to help with their current situation. Many students are probably about to head in to a season of Skype interviews- design a workshop about that. Teach students best practices for remote studying, for writing tests online, or for using the myriad of tech tools that are being thrown at them out of the blue. There are a lot of possibilities!
How-to: Figure out what webinar software or video-conferencing software your institution has access to, and familiarize yourself with any features of the platform. Design your workshop, keeping in mind any methods of interactivity you can incorporate via polls, the chat feature, or having students speak up. Try and keep your workshop relatively short and change what is being shown on the screen often; an hour on a webinar often feels much longer than an hour in person, and there are lots of readily accessible distractions!