In May 2017 the South African National Resource Center for the First Year Experience and Students in Transition (SANRC) hosted its third annual conference themed “The First Year Experience Without Borders.” As part of this conference, much of the third and final day was dedicated to an invitation-only national Orientation Summit; a gathering of orientation coordinators from across South Africa to discuss and dialogue about best practices for orientation programmes. The Summit was facilitated by Ms Soraya Motsabi (from the University of Johannesburg) and Dr Danny Fontaine (from the University of Cape Town).
Much of the Summit focused on gathering a shared understanding of what Orientation looks like at various institutions across the country. A shared understanding is an essential foundation to be able to then focus on best practice – which is the ultimate goal of the Summit; to be able to develop and interrogate what best practice for orientation programmes in South Africa is.
Since the Summit work has focused on developing: (1) a survey instrument that will be shared with universities across South Africa to gather more information on orientation programmes nationally; (2) gathering international literature about orientation programmes to be able to frame thinking about best practice in the South African context in a broader context, and (3) using the information gathered in 1 and 2 to develop a position paper about best practice for orientation in higher education in South Africa.
While orientation is most often the signature welcome event to campus for first year students, there is a lot of variation in understanding of what orientation is (or should be), what orientation looks like, who is involved in orientation, and what the outcome(s) of orientation should be. A national stance and guiding document on what best practice for orientation in the South African context will serve to strengthen the purpose of orientation as well as provide institutions with some much-needed guidance as institutions continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of higher education.