TikTok and Instagram challenges, online trivia and board games, and virtual cooking classes are a few of the events planned as the University of Guelph’s Orientation Week moves mostly online.

Known as O-Week, the first week of school is aimed at welcoming first-year students to their new life as Gryphons, helping them learn about University programs and services, and creating events to help them forge new connections.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged Orientation coordinators at Student Experience to think up new ways to connect students, this year’s O-Week will involve nearly 200 events run by more than 400 volunteers.

“It has been exciting to see the innovative use of technology and the creative energy of our dedicated O-Week volunteers who are driven by Gryphon pride and a deep commitment to continuing our proud O-Week traditions,” said Carrie Chassels, vice-provost (student affairs).

Orientation takes place Sept. 5-13, with events intended to help fulfill the five objectives of academic transition, creating community, health and well-being, inclusive campus and wayfinding.

Shannon Thibodeau, acting manager of the student transition office in Student Experience, sees an opportunity in moving events online.

“The silver lining of the COVID pandemic is that it has given us the chance to reimagine whole new ways to help students connect with others. So many of these events easily transition to an online format, and we’ve been inspired by the many new connection ideas students and departments have come up with,” she said.

Among those events will be trivia and online board games through Kahoot! and Jackbox.org, as well as pep challenges encouraging students to share their enthusiasm about life as a Gryphon. Upper-year orientation volunteers, or OV’s, will prompt students to do TikTok and Instagram challenges for a chance to be featured on U of G group Instagram stories and to show their Gryphon spirit.

“There’s really a whole variety of events during O-Week. So, whenever there’s a big, public event, there is also a quieter smaller event. Students don’t have to attend everything, but they can always find something that speaks to them and gives them a chance to meet up with other students with similar interests,” said Thibodeau.

U of G Hospitality Services will host cooking classes on Instagram, with University chefs answering questions from students learning to cook for themselves. Glen van der Kraak, dean of the College of Biological Science, will do a live cooking tutorial, making one of his favourite dishes at home.

“That’s what I love about this online format: there’s so much room to try something new; it’s not every year you can have a dean do a cooking show,” Thibodeau said.

Key academic readiness events of O Week include University 101, a program designed to help students transition to university learning. Volunteers called “academic community builders” will help students navigate the CourseLink and WebAdvisor systems for remote learning, while offering tips and tricks for excelling academically, socially and mentally.

“We’ve already seen high attendance to the orientation events we’ve been offering over the summer through STARTonCampus, so we know the enthusiasm is there for students to learn the steps for success,” said Thibodeau.

To accommodate students’ time zones, programming will start as early as 10 a.m. and end as late as 10 p.m., with many core events taking place at least twice.

Online navigation stations will help with student questions, such as choosing which events to attend and finding links, as well as referring them to other student and wellness services they might need. Students may submit questions by email to the newly updated I Am A Gryphon app or pose their queries during a Teams call.

The new online Orientation Week is reimagining how we connect, said Thibodeau.

“While we love to be able to meet every student face-to-face, the online format has provided us with more opportunities to engage, because student can attend an event from wherever they are. Some students are nervous about walking up to a booth to ask questions, but now they can connect with us from their own comfort zones. And we’ll be happy to help.”

A list of all events can be found on GuelphOWeek.ca.

To learn more about what the U of G student experience will look like this fall, visit the Virtual Campus page.