Imagine being a college student right now. You’ve been kicked off campus and torn from your friends. Your whole world has been upended. The college experience you’ve always dreamed of is now just a memory.
Like the rest of us, college students are living in isolation with lots of uncertainty about the fall semester and beyond. What does their future hold? What kind of job prospects will they have in a sputtering economy? They need the support of their fraternal organization more than ever.
By helping your fraternal chapter members make the best of this new virtual college experience, you will help them grow as individuals and deepen their connection with their fraternal community and your organization.
Mike Bourassa, director of business development at WBT Systems, participated in a Fraternal Think Tank discussion on how technology can be used for virtual experiences. The North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) is hosting these discussions with industry experts to help prepare fraternities for the 2020-21 academic year.
Technology has gone from being a nice-to-have supplement for fraternal organizations to a must-have. Right now, virtual is the only way to deliver educational programs and foster community and connections. If students don’t go back to campus in the fall, college fraternities will become virtual chapters.
The saving grace is this: Gen Z has been online most of their lives. They grew up connecting online with friends and fellow gamers around the world. Many of them were taking online classes before the COVID-19 pandemic. Going virtual is not a big deal for them.
Shifting to virtual fraternal chapters
But, going virtual could be a big deal for fraternal organizations. Instead of providing training and guidance in person, you now have to deliver everything virtually. Generation Zoom is comfortable in the virtual world, but they need your assistance to provide a virtual fraternal chapter experience, especially in these areas:
• Chapter governance
• Chapter leader training
• Educational program delivery
• Advisor and mentor meetings
• Social connections and brotherhood
The advantages of virtual education programs
Many organizations already use their LMS for chapter leader training. Now everyone must shift their educational and training efforts online.
When all this is over, many fraternal organizations will have discovered the advantages of online or virtual education. You may decide to keep it in the mix as a supplemental resource because:
• Many students are used to and prefer online education.
• You can standardize online education across chapters. Program content is consistent and won’t vary from one chapter/instructor to another.
• Virtual education is accessible to all members no matter where they’re located.
• You can track attendance and completion of training programs.
• Participant data goes back to the national organization. By tracking member participation, interest in topics, and views and clicks, you can see patterns and trends.
Key considerations for the virtual learning experience
Because fraternal organizations had to cancel day- or weekend-long face-to-face events, many are planning virtual summits to take their place. But you can’t take a face-to-face agenda and replicate it session-for-session online. One of the NIC Think Tank panelists said students won’t even sit still for a two-hour virtual event. Take the pulse of your audience and find out what type of format and schedule works for them.
Adapt your events to microlearning. Deliver your content in small chunks of information spaced out over time. You may end up with a virtual summit lasting a few weeks with a mix of live and recorded sessions with social meetups interspersed. When designing your program, build in opportunities for student participation. No one wants to spend 30 minutes passively listening to a talking head.
Brotherhood and networking
Online learning helps fraternity members feel a sense of brotherhood. For example, supplement chapter officer training with online discussion forums. Create a group for chapter leaders from across the country who are going through the same training program. After the program is over, encourage them to stay active in the group so they can interact throughout their college years and expand their network.
You could also create online communities for members who are:
• Working on similar service projects
• Doing the same type of internship
• Studying for a professional exam
• Interested in an accountability group
NIC panelist Chris Woods of Plaid said he’s already seeing technology fostering brotherhood. Fraternal chapters want to “experience something together.” For example, they’re organizing movie watch parties. Give your chapters a list of ideas for virtual experiences that provide social and learning benefits, like a leadership book club or TED talk watch party.
An advantage of virtual chapter leadership
The pandemic crisis does have its silver linings. A perennial challenge for fraternities is the loss of experienced chapter leaders when, in their third and fourth year of college, they’re off campus abroad or busy with an internship.
However, when a chapter goes virtual, they can keep these experienced leaders involved no matter where they are. They can take 30 minutes out of their schedule to Zoom into a chapter meeting or a discussion with a younger brother. Virtual experiences change the definition of student engagement.
More opportunities for volunteers and alumni advisors
Chapter advisors no longer have to be local since they can now advise from afar. This virtual advantage opens up the volunteer pool. Local availability used to be a huge barrier to volunteering especially with campuses located in remote college towns. Now, more alumni can get involved since they don’t have to worry about taking time to travel to campus.
On virtual platforms, it’s easy to arrange alumni/student meetups. Alumni can address students’ questions and concerns. Students can hear about the challenges that alumni are facing in their businesses and even offer a different perspective.
Fraternal organizations can arrange special alumni nights where chapter members from across the country can meet authors, speakers, and industry leaders. Giving back to your fraternity or university is a lot easier when you can do it virtually.
Students will show the way out of this crisis because they’ve grown up in a virtual world. They’re not stuck in the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset.
NIC panelist Holly Rider-Milkovich talked about the resourcefulness and creativity of fraternities: “They’re already solving this problem for us… Our job is really to be ready to partner with them, to embrace the new approaches while also providing some appropriate guidelines.” This is a college experience like no other, but, with your help, fraternity members will make the best of a bad situation.