Graduations are arguably one of the most memorable milestones in life. The stakes are therefore higher than ever for institutions planning and hosting them to deliver engaging experiences to students and their families.
Those planning today’s graduations need to ensure they’re hosting them in a way that acknowledges the strides the education sector is making daily to reinvent itself. The pandemic showcased what’s possible with remote learning and virtual experiences and audience expectations have shifted as a result. Individuals and students now expect flexibility to participate in either in-person and online settings. While these changes are remarkable, they do present additional considerations for institutional leaders to ensure their events are inclusive and accessible to all participants.
“The best way to plan any large event, any graduation, is to make it inclusive of everyone, regardless of if they’re tuning in virtually or physically,” said Spencer Kirschner, Customer Success Manager at AutomaticSync.
From providing captioning to offer greater access to audience members to using tools that engage graduates in real-time, here are some tips to make your graduation ceremonies more inclusive and meaningful for everyone involved.
1. Use live chats to drive attendee interaction
Live chats present exciting, interactive ways to get everyone in on the graduation action. Whether attendees are watching your graduation livestream on YouTube or attending in-person, you can create a sense of engagement and community by offering them live chats. Chat features from YouTube and Facebook Live offer features that allow viewers or families to cheer on their graduates and send supporting messages in real time.
You can also assign a moderator to the chat to interact with participants, ask questions about the graduates, troubleshoot any viewer challenges and much more. Live chats help to create an interactive event dialogue that will surely keep graduation audiences more engaged.
2. Support diverse audience needs for access
Accessibility must be top-of-mind when planning a ceremony. Graduating students, along with attendees such as those with disabilities, elderly family members, non-native speakers and others, are likely to make up your graduation’s diverse audience base.
One useful way to support inclusion is to make sure that all audio, video and images used for the graduation are accessible to individuals with disabilities. These ceremonies must also meet ADA guidelines, meaning captioning and other tools must be provided. Participants who are Deaf or hard of hearing, for example, greatly benefit from having live captions. AutomaticSync is an essential partner for graduation, working with many institutions to offer them the live and post-event captioning needed to provide access. Captions can be provided directly within the Zoom or YouTube or through a special window for viewers.
“Making it so that everyone can participate and have that equal access is important,” said Heather Rose, Disability Specialist and Service Coordinator at the University of Akron who is using Verbit and AutomaticSync, for its graduations. “It just opens up accessibility for everyone to see their child, grandchild, neighbor have that shining moment of graduating.”
Consider pre-event messaging to ensure everyone attending is aware of or has a forum to communicate their access needs. You can also share a QR code of the captioning stream with attendees and print it on your commencement programs so that in-person viewers can access it through their cell phones if it’s easier to view than on-screen at the event.
3. Publish useful resources on a dedicated graduation page
To make for clear communication and a smooth ceremony, make sure to set up a dedicated page on your school’s website to share all information related to the graduation.
Schools like the University of Wisconsin have set up a checklist on their site so that students can easily apply for graduation and rent their attire online. They’ve also published a page which details the school’s accessibility policies, offering resources to students and family members with disabilities who are attending. Consider making a page with tabs for graduates, attendees, faculty and staff to address different FAQS and ensure all are supported.
Additionally, it’s helpful to have resources which pertain to the smaller colleges within the university which have their own ceremonies. Don’t forget to invest in providing resources and accessibility for these smaller ceremonies happening as well.
4. Make the graduation available on-demand after
Don’t assume that everyone will be able to participate live. Preserving the moment of graduation so that it can be shared with students, their families and friends to watch after, will be greatly appreciated. Alert students of where they and their loved ones can watch or rewatch the ceremony and when it will be available. Posting an on-demand recording of the graduation on your social channels or dedicated site page for easy viewing is a good idea. Ensuring equitable experiences are being provided to watch the on-demand must be considered too.
Adding the on-demand video with captions will be greatly helpful and necessary for many to consume it with equity, but transcripts can be considered too. Transcripts aren’t only helpful to those with disabilities or access needs, but can make the on-demand video searchable. Transcriptions like AutomaticSync’s allow those viewing the on-demand graduation to search terms and be directed exactly to the place in the video they want to reference. For example, they can search the name of the graduating student relevant to them and be taken to the exact point in the video where they’re called up on stage or recognized. Transcriptions also present institutions with an added benefit of increasing the SEO of their website.
5. Gathering audience feedback is key
Collecting real-time feedback while the graduation is happening can help you make adjustments live. Gathering feedback from students and attendees after also allows you to get a gauge from them on how they perceived the experience to be.
This feedback can be garnered via a follow-up survey via SurveyMonkey, sent to them via email or listed prominently on your site the day after the event. This feedback will help inform each graduation to come and allow you to assess how successful you were in providing an engaging event, meeting accessibility needs, how the virtual vs. in-person experience felt and much more.
6. Don’t be afraid to lean on tech to transform your graduations
We’re all still working out the kinks of virtual and hybrid event experiences. Whether the ceremony is being held online, in-person or in a hybrid fashion, leveraging the right technologies and a partner who can handle your graduation needs at scale can make your graduation more interactive and successful. Plus, audience members will be WOWed by innovative ways they can engage with the event that account for their modern viewing expectations.
AutomaticSync is an essential partner for institutions hosting graduation ceremonies, offering them expertise on putting on these events with access at the forefront. Our specialized teams and technology are being used to deliver event captioning to hundreds of institutions, including the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Lewis University and the State University of New York (SUNY). Contact us to learn about must-have captioning solutions that can make your institution’s ceremonies more engaging and inclusive.