Michigan State University’s incoming freshmen class will attend a virtual New Student Orientation before coming to MSU due to COVID-19 concerns.
The virtual New Student Orientation, or NSO, will be a one credit UGS 100 course on Desire2Learn, or D2L, for incoming freshmen only. The course will consist of multiple modules that contain information students typically get at NSO such as how to use D2L, Stuinfo, and Microsoft TEAMS.
Each module in the virtual NSO will take about an hour to complete. Students will have all summer from their chosen date to complete the modules and will continue to have access to the information throughout their first year at MSU.
“The good thing about this is that the information that the students have will always be available to them,” New Student Orientation director Portia Watkins said. “So, if there are things in Module One — that’s about introductions or academic integrity — and they need to go back to refer to it because they can’t remember what they heard, they can always go back and look at that information.”
The virtual format also allows students to receive more content and meet more campus members than they normally would during a two-day, in-person orientation.
“You can only do so much in two days,” Watkins said. “Everyone can’t come and see all of the incoming students in two days. But this way, when it lives in an online environment, we can have many more campus partners put information out there so that students can access that information to learn more about the resources they have to offer.”
Some incoming students are worried that not attending NSO on campus will affect how soon they’re able to navigate campus efficiently.
“I’m worried that I’m not going to know how to get to my classes and when I get there, I’m just going to be really overwhelmed,” incoming pre-nursing freshman Brianna Johns said. “I’m also worried about the location of my classes because I know on tours you get to see where all the buildings are, which tells you where the classes are. I’m just worried that when I get there, I’m not going to know where anything is and get lost.”
Johns, who hasn’t visited campus before, said she hopes that the virtual NSO will show as much of the campus as possible and give more information about what to expect during the fall semester following the COVID-19 pandemic. President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced on May 27 that MSU is planning to have students back on campus with hybrid courses.
Though incoming students will not be able to experience campus through NSO, Watkins said that peer interactions will help prepare incoming students for what to expect when arriving on campus in September.
“It’s so important for our orientation leaders that we’re still able to use them and still able to engage with them,” Watkins said. “I can tell students ‘Oh, it’s a beautiful campus’ and ‘Oh, this is great,' but I only have a certain perspective. For students who are living in this space that have traversed this campus — to hear that from other students ... — they’re going to be the ones that can show them the best way through their eyes, through the words that they tell them and through their experiences. That’s going to be the best way to be able to ‘see’ campus in a way that is safe before they can step foot on it.”
International students, who typically attend NSO at the end of August just before the fall semester begins, will receive access to the virtual NSO at the end of July. Watkins said she is working to have a blended experience between incoming domestic and international students.
“We’re trying to move toward giving international students and domestic students an opportunity to have a blended experience,” Watkins said. “We’re trying to work on making sure that these programs are more inclusive. While there are things that international students need to know and things that they need to do as far as immigration procedures and things like that, all of the other information that they need to know is the same as the domestic students.”
Though the virtual NSO was a result of regulations due to COVID-19, Watkins said that the option for online NSOs have been discussed in the past and she hopes to have this option available, with some improvements, in the future.
“This is not a temporary fix,” Watkins said. “As the new director, one of the things that my staff and I, as well as Dr. Mark Largent, have been looking at are ways that New Student Orientation can be done that is the most optimal and accessible way for all of our students. Even though we’re probably not going to do it this way this year — the pandemic moved us forward faster than we wanted to — this was always going to be part of the plan. Maybe not fully online, but there were going to be options for online orientations because of access issues.”
Though an online orientation is not the same as an in-person one, Watkins and the New Student Orientation staff are excited to welcome incoming students to MSU.
“We’re excited that we were able to still be able to offer orientation in this way,” Watkins said. “That’s the safest way. The university community is excited about it, even though — I can’t emphasize enough — it’s not the way we imagined this year would go. But understandably — especially with incoming students and ... transfer students as well — this is their first experience with MSU and this is how it has to be.”