Auckland’s abrupt lockdown at the start of Semester One forced the University to hold the Clubs Expo online as a “Virtual Fair”.
The whole-day event, taking place on the first Thursday of the semester, saw students browse Engage to sign up as club members, or meet club executives virtually over Zoom. Students could attend either a morning or afternoon virtual session.
Anne-Marie Parsons, Associate Director of Campus Life’s Student Engagement team, says feedback for the event has been positive, with club executives being “happy to have an opportunity to connect with peers”. Parsons revealed that “there were over 1800 attendees at each virtual session”.
The decision to hold the event online was made a single day after the Alert Level 3 announcement, giving the University and attendees three days to prepare. “There has been a Virtual Fair option on Engage since mid-2020,” Parsons says, “and we had looked into the technology as part of contingency planning.”
Louise Miao, Secretary of the Auckland University Muay Thai Club, was surprised by how many students signed up virtually. “Our overall sign-ups for the year have definitely exceeded our expectations considering Virtual Expos were so last minute,” Miao tells Craccum. Despite this, a lot less students attended her club’s Zoom session than the number that signed up. Miao attributes this to the daunting nature of joining a call with several strangers.
“It’s not our preferred way to meet returning and potential club members but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
STEM for Global Health President Catriona Miller agrees that “it was great getting to talk to so many interested students one on one.” She also recognises “it was handy having it connected to the Engage portal so that students could quickly sign up and browse club events.” This was great news as more Engage signups increases how much funding a club can apply for. (Note: Parsons clarifies “membership numbers are one factor in grant decisions. However much more emphasis is put on the application itself and the ideas proposed by clubs.”)
Ultimately, Miller points out that “[they] definitely saw fewer students than if it had been in person,” owing to not having the opportunity to chat with people walking by. “In-person Clubs Expos bring a bit of excitement to the first week of uni and are a great way for students to meet clubs that they’d never thought of joining,” says Miller. However, she adds she would be keen to see a mixed online/in-person for the Clubs Expo in the future.
Meanwhile, for AUMT, Miao points out Zoom session “limits [their] ability to do demonstrations and showcase what our club has to offer,” and therefore her club fully prefers Club Expo sessions being held in-person.
Parsons says her team is investigating whether both methods can be integrated to enhance the event. “Clubs and associations have been clear that while they appreciated the virtual opportunity, they value a face to face experience,” Parson says. “Understanding the technology allows us to consider how it could compliment an on campus experience.”