Planning virtual programs is probably new territory for your student programming board.
It requires several learning curves: researching and picking what technology to use, getting and keeping an audience’s attention when they already spend so much time online, and figuring out how to transition community traditions into online experiences.
So, I’d like to offer some considerations to ease your program board’s shift to a virtual environment. With these nine advising tips, your programming board can produce stellar programs while demonstrating technological fluency and adaptability to employers.
To help guide you along the planning process, check out Presence’s Virtual Program Planner.
1. Discuss streaming options
If your programming board decides to livestream an event, consider which platform you’ll use. That decision can be driven by posing and discussing several questions:
- What platforms are you already utilizing? Consider social media sites (like Facebook Live or Instagram Live), webinar platforms, or video streaming platforms
- What platform is most popular with the students at your institution?
- How many people can each platform host at a time?
- Do users have to log in or download anything, or can they simply click and join?
- What accessibility features are available, such as captions or screen reader compatibility? (I’ll discuss this further later on.)
- How can you engage participants during the streaming? Are there community features like comments, polls, and breakout rooms available?
- How advanced is the technical setup for the event? Will you need multiple cameras or additional lighting? For example, a student hosting a home cooking demonstration can easily go on Facebook Live but you may want to use a webinar platform to host a performer who has an advanced tech rider. (It’s easier to livestream multiple panelists or performers on a webinar platform than it is on a social media platform.)
- Do you want the event to be available to the public or restricted to members of your institution?
Once your students agree on a streaming platform, make sure the hosts, performers, and facilitators have the technology that they need to film.
For Facebook Live or Instagram Live, the host will need a phone, tablet, or computer with an HD camera to provide an optimal experience to viewers. Phones and tablets will need a PopSocket or tripod for a stable livestream.
For all platforms, check if the host needs earbuds or a podcasting microphone to be heard, which may depend on how the camera will be positioned.
2. Have tech support in the wings
Even the most well-planned event can experience technical difficulties. That’s why it helps to have someone — who is not interacting with participants — available to troubleshoot and provide moderator support.
This person should be comfortable with:
- Moderating participant comments
- Troubleshooting WiFi connectivity and sound issues
- Setting up polls and breakout rooms
Depending on your platform, this person may be from your institution’s IT department or it may be an opportunity for a member of the programming board to improve their skills. Have students review the FAQ pages of your chosen platform so that they will be prepared to handle any technical difficulties that arise.
3. Plan out a calendar
Building out a calendar of recurring virtual engagement opportunities can give participants something to look forward to every week. Here are some tips to make it extra engaging:
- Decide on a sustainable format: Regardless of how many recurring events your programming board decides to plan, keep their expectations realistic. For example, if they do a social media post every day, will they have enough content to last them through the semester? How much time do the students expect to dedicate to planning virtual programs?
- Assign responsibility: Create a RACI matrix of student leaders, documenting who is responsible for which aspects of the virtual programming calendar. Responsibilities can include who will host, who will research social media trivia content, and who will respond to live comments.
- Mix it up: Switch up the types of social media content that is posted, as well the types of livestreamed programs you offer. Ideas include home cooking demonstrations, group exercise classes, DIY crafts, hiring a performer, BINGO games, trivia nights, and celebrity speakers.
If your programming board is feeling stuck while trying to come up with virtual programs, check out these 53 ideas.
4. Stay consistent with your advising meetings
If you have to connect with your programming board virtually, don’t let the advising meetings slip away!
It can be easy to let students cancel a one-on-one or an e-board meeting here and there, but that can turn into weeks of absenteeism — especially when you don’t have the benefit of seeing students in-person on campus.
Encourage accountability by making sure that the meetings are on everyone’s calendars. And to make your virtual meetings more rewarding and enjoyable, try incorporating teambuilding activities. Michelle Cummings compiled several free ebooks on virtual team-building activities.
Learn more about facilitating effective virtual meetings from these guides:
- The Definitive Guide To Facilitating Remote Workshops
- Complete Guide To Remote Team Meetings
- 5 Tips for Running Virtual One-on-Ones From an #SAPro Who’s Done Over 150
5. Consider accessibility needs
Part of becoming a student leader is learning to recognize and address the diverse needs of the college community. As their advisor, you should help your programming board research different accessibility tools that are available for your chosen platforms.
Common tools that students should learn about include: Closed and open captioning, alternative text, and alternative ways to access the event (such as calling in via phone rather than logging into a computer).
It may be helpful to review these resources with your students:
- Everything You Need to Know About Inclusive Design for Social Media
- Improving Your Tweet Accessibility
- Accessibility Toolkit for Open Educational Resources
- 4 Things You Need to Do to Make Every Virtual Student Program Inclusive
- Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility of Your Virtual Events for People with Disabilities
6. Rethink the budget
Budgeting for a virtual event is a little different than for an in-person one. For example, food is often a major cost in person, but it is not something that you have to worry about virtually. On the flip side, virtual events may have additional costs, such as having to ship prizes or materials to participants.
So, brainstorm with your programming board about what costs you can expect to stay the same, where there may be additional costs, and where you could potentially save money.
Advisors should communicate with their IT departments to find out what resources are already available. Do you already own webinar licenses? If you need closed or open captioning for an event, will the IT or accessibility services departments cover the cost of that service?
Such things should be considered to save you both time and money, while still making your event engaging and accessible.
7. Keep up with event evaluations
Just as you would evaluate an on-campus event, the same expectation should be applied to your programming board’s virtual events.
Metrics like attendance can easily be measured using tools like the registration list from webinar platforms and tracking viewers on social media livestreams.
Presence’s Event Success Reflection Guide may be useful to use when you debrief the event with your programming board. Also check out this recent blog post about how to assess engagement in virtual programming.
8. Make backup plans
What will your program board do if something critical to the event fails, such as if a guest speaker is not able to log on, the video freezes mid-event, or whoever was supposed to be your tech support cancels at the last minute?
Prepare for these situations beforehand to ensure a seamless experience for the participants. If you’re using a webinar platform, this could mean being able to skip around the schedule to the next speaker or activity.
Or if there is a disruption during a social media livestream broadcast, it would be good to have a plan in place to communicate with participants about when they can expect the broadcast to be back online.
9. Learn from each other
It’s okay if you don’t know everything that there is to know about virtual programs; be honest with your students that you are learning with them.
Most of your programming board members are probably part of Gen Z (AKA digital natives). So, make use of their natural affinity for virtual spaces, as well as their knowledge of what it’s like to be online all of the time.
They may have invaluable insight into the best times to host programs and when their peers need a break from their screens. Together, you and your programming board can create programs that students will be eager to participate in and enjoy!