Orientation 2020: A Virtual Odyssey
Amid the sudden and massive COVID-19 disruption, there were many uncertainties as to how the library could safely support the August orientation activities. For the past few years, NIE Library has participated in the orientation of new students by organising “survival” style activities. These activities typically involved competing groups racing to complete time-sensitive challenges within the library premises. However, with the introduction of the Circuit Breaker by the Singapore government, we were informed by the organisers that the orientation would be held virtually. As a result, we had to change the format of the activities abruptly.
History of Partnership between OPMC and NIE Library
Over the last five years, NIE Library has partnered with successive Orientation Planning Management Committees (OPMC) to design in-person group activities within the library for the Freshmen Orientation Programme (FOP). The objective of these activities was to familiarise new students with library services, resources and facilities. The FOP is also the perfect event for the library to test and showcase new technological initiatives. For example, in 2019, we used AR/VR technologies to create on-campus library orientation experience that was inspired by Harry Potter.
Game Details and Content
As physical access to the Library was not advised for large groups of students, we decided to create an online game that would help students familiarise themselves with the library portal, and in the process learn more about their membership privileges, library services, facilities and resources. To align with the orientation theme, Gulliver’s Travels, the game was named The Secrets of Lilliput, after the fictional island Lilliput which was inhabited by tiny human beings.
Through the game, students were also introduced to our library newsletter, CheckOut and our Instagram account where they could learn more about library events, useful databases, as well as participate in campus-wide contests with attractive prizes.
While the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker brought forth a slew of inconveniences in our initial planning, it also provided us with a number of opportunities to try something different. Most of the library activities we had planned previously were predominantly group activities carried out in the library. With the Circuit Breaker in place, it was not possible to have multiple groups in the library. We decided that our focus this time round would be to design activities for individual students instead.
We had a very short time to plan our activities as our first discussions with the student organisers from OPMC only happened in early June 2020. We quickly finalised the format of the activities which would comprise a game that would take approximately 25 to 30 minutes to complete. To keep everyone safe, meetings with the student organisers were conducted online.
As we envisioned that the game would be played by students at home using different devices, the game had to be mobile-responsive and able to run on different operating systems. After reviewing various platforms and applications, we selected one which would give us the most design possibilities and which is relatively easy to use. A pilot run was conducted with the student leaders two weeks before the orientation. Based on their feedback, we made adjustments were to the total number of questions and overall difficulty of the questions, as well as fixed some technical issues to improve the overall user experience.
The final version of The Secrets of Lilliput consisted of 20 questions spread out over 5 levels. By referring to the Library Portal, CheckOut newsletter, or NIE Library’s Instagram feed, participants must locate answers for questions on library member privileges, library collections, and services. Each of the five levels must be completed within four minutes and correctly answering a question extended the countdown timer by 20 seconds. Points were awarded for correct answers. Hints were also provided throughout the game. At the end of the activity, the answers to the questions were also made available to the participants for their reference.
Due to the unprecedented circumstances, the journey we took to develop the activities deviated drastically from previous years. A post-activity survey was conducted to gather participant feedback on The Secrets of Lilliput. We were delighted to find out that 81.7% of the new students enjoyed playing the game and that 86.7% had learnt more about our resources, facilities and services.
Our experience from the 2020 NIE Virtual Orientation gave us plenty to reflect on. In a post COVID-19 world, would future orientations be conducted virtually? If so, would we be able to design virtual group activities that are fun and engaging? What are the new trends in technology that we can adopt to transform this experience?
To all new students, ahoy and welcome aboard! We hope your voyage in NIE will be as exciting as Gulliver’s travels.