Ontario Universities’ Guidance Dialogues virtual event for 3,000 high school guidance counsellors

This year, many university and college on-campus and open house events were delayed or cancelled. This was extremely unfortunate because open houses and campus tours are important in helping students and parents prioritize schools and make decisions.

For my children, when they were evaluating different higher education institutions, campus tours had a dramatic impact on their perspective and perception of a school. After each campus tour and open house, I asked my daughters to re-rank their school choices and they nearly always changed them up. Without campus access, many students and parents have lost a key insight in making this life-changing decision. For them, the comfort of talking to university representatives before making a decision about a university is lost. For schools, it is the loss of one of the most influential tools for attracting prospective students.

Many schools are now offering virtual tours with videos of their campus or virtual open houses with a link to a general information session using Zoom. These offerings are better than nothing, but the fact of the matter is, a good open house enables prospective students to get granular on their evaluation of a school and its campus culture. A glimpse into the smaller components of a program and student life can only be achieved by enabling deeper and more relevant conversations. From my experience, a simple 10-minute discussion, 1-on-1, with faculty or representative students can make all the difference.

This fall, more and more students and parents are leaning on high school guidance counsellors to provide graduating high school students with the insight and expertise lost from closed campuses. Particularly, by providing updates on universities and their programs and notable changes for a year that represented a wide shift from the norm.

The Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) faced the same challenge for its Ontario Universities’ Guidance Dialogues virtual event, a series of online events dedicated to delivering admission updates between Ontario’s universities and high school guidance counsellors.

“With on-campus university open houses largely cancelled, this virtual event is one of the main mechanisms for all of Ontario’s universities to get their most up-to-date messages to high school counsellors and their students so they can make informed decisions about their future higher education needs,” said Deanna Underwood, Manager, Communications and Events, at the OUAC.

The OUAC evaluated different virtual event platforms over the summer and chose to work with Acadiate based on our strong, visual user experience and extensive work with higher education institutions. Acadiate quickly designed and created a province-wide virtual open house for all 22 Ontario universities. The event was designed, assembled and launched in less than 3 weeks.

Part of the benefit of Acadiate’s platform is the ability to customize and design an event around a special demographic and purpose. The platform can be designed for simple events or for more comprehensive experiences and is flexible in accommodating any vision. For the OUAC, it was about simplicity and ease of access, and to ensure each university had an equal footing and opportunity to showcase themselves to the attendees.

Acadiate also incorporated special design considerations, such as the ability to offer bilingual options for those universities with bilingual campuses. This included separate zones for English and French speakers.

“I really enjoyed working with Acadiate,” said Deanna, “their professionalism and efficiency enabled us to achieve this project on a very tight schedule.”

The Ontario Universities’ Guidance Dialogues virtual event took place over the course of 2 half-days, where each university hosted a live chat and question and answer period. The event was designed to enable attendees to visit and browse the venue a few weeks before the event went “live”.

Attendees could view on-demand multimedia material in the form of PDF information sheets and short videos prepared by each university. The preview stage also allowed guidance counsellors to visit each university’s “booth” and then drop in on the online university sessions during the live hours at their own convenience.

The feedback from the universities was that the event was tiring from the many conversations over 5 hours each day, but effective. Everyone was happy with the traffic flow and the efficiency of managing the many questions from the guidance counsellors. Not an easy feat, considering there were more than 3,000 counsellors in attendance!