For both staff and students, the start of a new academic year is, even in normal times, an exciting (and sometimes stressful) occasion. With this year being far from normal, departments are having to adapt to a more virtual environment and for some degree apprenticeship courses, this is going to mean welcoming new students online. On top of the barrage of information all new students have to deal with, our apprentices have additional requirements to meet such as creating an ePortfolio. Indeed, degree apprenticeship applicants to the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying had an online welcome to the department in mid-August while applicants to Business and Law Leadership and Management and Project Management were also welcomed online rather than face to face.
Welcoming and inducting new students is an essential part of starting out on a new educational adventure and moving online does not have to mean losing out completely on the experience of face to face sessions. Applicants to our surveying degree apprenticeship programme were able to ‘meet’ the staff long before they set a foot on campus through welcome videos hosted on a Google site.
Screenshot from the SCES pre-applicant site.
The SCES pre-applicant site provided a user-friendly platform allowing the department to offer prospective apprentices with a wealth of information, helping to create an early connection with the University. Through this site, the pre-applicants could be made aware not just of the demands of the surveying course but also the requirements of the apprenticeship aspects of the course such as the need to maintain a log of their off the job training.
In the words of Module Coordinator Tom Woodbury,
“Due to the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 crisis, our Applicant Open Day moved to an online-only format. Working with TECH OCD, we developed the content for the session using a Google Plus site which meant that as well as having the content organised for the day, applicants that could not attend and those wanting to revisit the content were able to access at their convenience. In the end, this method worked out really well, and seemed very well-received by attendees.”
The sites helped prepare students for some of the skills that they will need to help complete their course successfully, for example, what IT skills will be required and offered early access to study support information and library facilities.
This model was also used by the faculty of Business and Law for their Chartered Manager DA, Project Management DA and their MBA DA course. The ease with which Google sites can be used to create web pages also meant the sites could be put together and published relatively quickly. However, the structure that Google sites forces on the user can be a little frustrating at times, but this can be overcome with some bespoke HTML.
For courses starting before the official October re-opening of the University, the sites were an important way to communicate with students. The sites were not made public and anyone accessing the site needed the actual link that was sent out to the prospective students. Google Analytics was used to monitor the level of access and early data indicated many applicants were using the sites. With Google sites already being used extensively by Business and Law degree apprentices for their ePortfolios, using them as a way of welcoming new apprentices in these unusual times seemed a logical and workable solution but it will be interesting to collect feedback from the students.