A new cohort of Spartans is beginning their MSU experience during one of the most challenging times in our history. The New Student Orientation (NSO) team is responsible for acclimating and welcoming thousands of new students this fall, and they’re doing it entirely online.
This year, NSO will take the form of a one-credit course — UGS (Undergraduate Studies) 100 — which is included with admission to MSU. The course will apprise incoming students of resources, terminology, policy, procedures, campus geography, and MSU’s history.
Assisting NSO in this process are Dr. Sarah Gretter, who works in the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology as a learning experience designer, and Dr. Jim Lucas, the assistant dean of Global Education and Curriculum under MSU’s Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. The pair lead the campus transitions working group, where they recently finished a report on the first-year experience.
In the following Q and A, Dr. Gretter and Dr. Lucas explain the how and why of MSU’s new UGS 100 course.
Why create an online course to introduce students to MSU?
Dr. Lucas: For many of our students, this will be their first virtual learning experience. The transition to MSU can be overwhelming already, with lots of different units involved. By putting the organization of a course around the NSO experience, we’re packaging it in a series of discrete steps that may make sense to students, given their academic backgrounds in high school.
I see the course as not only allowing us to think of NSO as part of a broader first year curriculum, but also providing some coherence and some scaffolded structure for the students as they try to navigate orientation without being able to physically come to campus.
Dr. Gretter: It’s building on the experience that Dr. Lucas has already had with UGS in general and the structures the university already had in place with D2L (MSU’s online learning platform). We wanted to create a seamless experience.
There are three components to NSO that we wanted to include. There is information delivery; there is real-time engagement, between students and the NSO staff, as well as groups and clubs on campus; and there is a resource fair, so students can explore and get to know the various resources at MSU.
Is there a lot of overlap in this course with other orientation or UGS programs?
Dr. Lucas: Orientation has existed alongside a suite of different first-year seminars for a long time. Now that we’re transitioning orientation to a credit-bearing model, we can still have both. We’re working to ensure that UGS 100 does not overlap with UGS 110. We also want to work with any college or department that has a concern, and try to make sure that the learning outcomes associated with the class are unique.
Dr. Gretter: This is an opportunity to talk to those units and ensure complementarity between NSO, UGS, and individual colleges.
How was the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology involved in building UGS 100?
Dr. Gretter: The Hub’s involvement in this NSO project was from a design perspective. We wanted to facilitate conversations around design, while keeping in mind our findings from the transitions project. The other part of my role is to use NSO as an example of one of those orientations that are going to happen virtually on campus, and use those design patterns we’re working on with NSO to inform those other orientations. For example, new faculty orientation, graduate TA orientation, and so forth.
How does this new course dovetail with UGS 110, or courses run by the colleges?
Dr. Lucas: A lot of colleges have their own student success courses, which would be similar to UGS 110. UGS 110 is a course about student success behaviors over a semester, not just an orientation.
Nationally, there are five different models for a first-year seminar, and MSU has all of them. We want something uniform and consistent for all students that is complementary. With UGS 100, we are trying to encapsulate everything you need to know to come to campus, virtually or in person.
We’re trying to work with UGS 110 and the college courses to solidify that. After students have been introduced to the university and they’re on campus, other concerns emerge, whether those are academic, social, or time management. These courses are designed to pick up where orientation left off.
Dr. Gretter: This course was built on the experience of the NSO team. Orientation is their expertise. We’re excited about how it will dovetail with MSU’s other efforts to ensure a smooth transition for students through their first year.
Why is this an exciting offering from MSU?
Dr. Gretter: It’s exciting because we are bringing everything from resources to MSU culture into one for-credit course. We know this is something students want and need, especially in an uncertain time.
Dr. Lucas: UGS 100 will be a comprehensive offering. It takes the myriad aspects of arriving at MSU and systematizes them in a format students already understand. That’s the most exciting thing — to know that we are setting up new students for success in a consistent way, using an evidence-based approach.