A one-day orientation can’t explore everything a student needs to adapt to a new learning environment. In addition to having to adapt to a new campus, over half of the university’s graduate students are international, so they have to get acclimated to an entirely new culture.
However, more options have recently become available to help beyond what orientation does, for both local and international students. A great illustration of this is Grad Groups, which helps graduate students become familiar with more of what Tech has to offer.
What’s Grad Groups?
Grad Groups is an extended orientation program, offered for the first time one year ago by Special Projects Coordinator of Graduate Studies, James Black. It is an eight-week course that helps new, first-semester, grad students to become academically and socially acclimated to Tech’s environment.
Black wondered if there was a technology solution that could help him to create time for both course content and student interaction. This led to Black’s Teaching with Technology Partnership (TTP) with Assistant Director of Learning and Technology Initiatives for the Center of Teaching and Learning (CTL), Chaohua Ou.
According to Dr. Black, “Having Chaohua and the CTL team helping me uncover the capabilities of Canvas and how best to apply them to the course has been incredibly helpful.”
The duo worked together to turn Grad Groups into a hybrid course; the class meets in-person for an hour a week, and the rest of the work is covered in online modules containing embedded videos that cover course content. There are questions interspersed between them to test students to verify that they’ve watched the video and understand the topics covered in it.
Although the reconstructed course is still in the process of its first implementation, it is already yielding benefits for its students. According to Black and Ou, one of the greatest benefits is helping increase student awareness of the resources offered by Georgia Tech that can help with academic, emotional, and social development.
Grad Groups gives them the opportunity to do so with an instructor and Group Leader to guide them and their fellow first-year peers to support them.
Discussing the resources and campus-life in general amongst peers also creates a safe space for international students to feel more comfortable asking questions about campus and American culture than they might feel asking a student or an advisor.
According to Ou, converting the course into a half-online/half-onsite course also allows for these peers to connect more. “The online modules allow students to learn and study a lot of the content online in their own time and have more time to interact with their peers and group leaders in class.”
Being able to access the content of the course virtually makes it much more flexible to the average graduate students’ schedule.
Plans for the Future
The goal of Grad Groups is to establish a positive environment to assist new students in transitioning academically and socially into graduate studies. The duo behind its development also hope to serve as a proof of concept to use such technological methods for nonacademic content that’s still beneficial to graduate students.
Black and Ou hope the course will encourage the development of more courses that incorporate technology into their curriculums in a way that positively impacts the learning environment, both for instructor and student. As Black said, “Grad students are so pressed for time, that any way we can provide the typically-offered services in a way that’s more flexible to their schedules is worth exploring further.”
They also hope that someday a program like theirs can be expanded to online graduate students. “Online students are remote and geographically dispersed, so how do we make them feel like they have access to those same resources and how do we show them the resources available?” stated Ou.
There are over 10,000 online graduate students at Georgia. It is important that they receive an orientation that helps them learn about the resources that Georgia Tech offers.
One day, Grad Groups might expand its efforts beyond on-campus students. But for now, Grad Groups serves as a great example of how technology can be used to create an efficient and effective learning environment.
For more information about Grad Groups, go to https://grad.gatech.edu/grad-groups