4 Tips for Creating an Accessible and Engaging Virtual Graduation
Graduation is a big milestone for students and their families and every year, colleges and universities prepare to ensure the ceremony is as special as possible.
After a long and arduous academic year, students feel rewarded for their hard work and dedication by convening with their peers, crossing the stage, and receiving their diplomas.
In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of people to shelter-in-place and social distance in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. It affected nearly every industry, including education. Many schools had to close their campuses to protect students and faculty members. As a result, large social gatherings, like graduation, could no longer be conducted in-person.
Since then, a number of schools have had to get creative. For example, students at the University of California Berkeley created a virtual graduation ceremony in the popular video game, Minecraft.
When in-person events aren’t possible, moving online is the next best thing. But, how can schools foster an engaging and accessible graduation experience in a virtual environment? The following tips will help colleges and universities create an unforgettable graduation ceremony for students, families, and faculty.
Tip 1: Plan Ahead
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” The first and foremost step in hosting a successful virtual graduation is to plan ahead.
You want to start by asking yourself some fundamental questions. The following are just a few to keep in mind:
- How many people would you like to be in attendance?
- What is the budget for the event?
- Will the graduation be fully virtual or a hybrid event?
- How will you ensure the graduation is accessible and inclusive to everyone?
- Who will be speaking at the graduation? (i.e. the Chancellor, certain faculty, the student body president, guest speakers, etc.)
- How long will the graduation ceremony last?
- What tools will you need to use to ensure attendees are engaged?
- What is your overall vision for the graduation?
- What does a successful graduation look like for your institution?
- How will you measure this success?
Planning a virtual graduation may seem daunting at first but by asking the right questions, you’ll set yourself up for the greatest success possible.
Plus, now that many colleges and universities are past the sudden shift brought forth by the pandemic, students have higher expectations from their academic institutions. They want to have a seamless and engaging graduation. The sooner you get started with planning, the better off the event will be.
Tip 2: Keep Inclusion at the Forefront
Now more than ever, inclusion has been a buzzword and popular topic of discussion for businesses and institutions.
At 3Play, we even hosted an event, ACCESS at Home, to explore ways in which organizations can foster diversity and inclusion.
It’s no secret that inclusion has become increasingly important, especially since the start of the pandemic. Social distancing has resulted in some people feeling lonely and socially isolated and since they haven’t been able to meet physically, many have relied on the virtual world to remain connected to others.
One way for your upcoming graduation to be inclusive is to make it accessible. The same way physical locations can be made accessible with automatic doors, wheelchair ramps, or crosswalk signals, online video can be made accessible, too.
For a virtual graduation, you should have the following video accessibility tools:
- Closed captions
- Live captions
- Other language transcripts
Closed captions are time-synchronized text that represents the audio information in a media file. They make video accessible to deaf and hard of hearing viewers by providing a text-to-time track as a supplement to, or as a substitute for, the audio. Closed captions are used for pre-recorded video and oppositely, live captions are used for events happening in real-time.
Both closed and live captions will make your graduation accessible to attendees with hearing loss. However, captions have been shown to benefit more than just viewers with disabilities. 80% of people who use captions aren’t deaf or hard of hearing.
In addition, a study by USFSP uncovered that captions boost focus and information retention – especially when there is poor audio quality, there are multiple speakers, or there are speakers with heavy accents.
When a graduation is inaccessible, it leaves students, families, and faculty feeling excluded and unable to fully participate in what’s supposed to be a joyous communion.
Translations are another great way to make your graduation accessible. Depending on the student population, it’s very likely that there are students who speak English as a second language. Those students may even have family members who want to show support, but may not speak English. When a transcript is provided, people who speak languages other than English will still be able to enjoy and engage with your graduation ceremony.
Finally, including an ASL interpreter is another great way to make your event inclusive for deaf and hard of hearing attendees. With captions and interpreters, you’re ensuring that everyone has access to the best method of communication.
Tip 3: Invest in the Right Technology
Technology has the ability to bridge gaps between people. As long as you have an internet connection and a device, you can connect with people from different countries, with a variety of abilities, and more.
When hosting a virtual graduation, choosing the right technology is essential because it can make or break your event.
The first thing to consider is the video conferencing platform you’ll be using. Many people have used Zoom because of its accessibility features and intuitive user experience. However, there are other options you can use, too.
If you keep accessibility in mind, you’ll want to use a platform that allows you to provide captions and/or translations. At 3Play Media, we integrate with a number of streaming platforms and streamline the captioning process for our customers’ live events.
Additionally, here are some other tech tips to keep in mind:
- Ensure you have a strong internet connection
- Provide mics for speakers to avoid low or unclear audio
- Minimize background noise
- Choose a video conferencing platform that lets attendees engage with the event (i.e families sharing their congratulations with students in the chat)
For more tech and video tips, check out this webinar with this video expert from Wistia.
Tip 4: Be Open to Feedback
Last, but certainly not least, our final tip is to be open to feedback. For many colleges and universities, this is new territory and that’s okay.
Chances are, there may be a few hiccups in the planning process or on the day of the actual event, but we can assure you that attendees are incredibly understanding. This is very new for all of us, so there’s no need to sweat the small stuff! For example, if you’re having tech problems, be transparent and let your attendees know.
Also, give students, families, and faculty the opportunity to provide feedback after the virtual ceremony. You may be able to apply the feedback to a future virtual event and make it even more successful.
The Future of Virtual Graduations
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that we can adequately host events online. Even as the world opens back up again, we can anticipate virtual events will remain.
The more virtual or even hybrid graduation there are, the more schools will be able to take the wins and lessons from previous years to create an unforgettable experience for their students!
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