National Orientation Campaign

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Orientation programmes and activities are a staple feature in the first-year programme of most institutions. However, the importance of orientation in the higher education journey of a first-year student is generally not widely understood or appreciated. Orientation can be the crucial mechanism in preparing students for their higher education journey and giving them the resources needed to successfully complete this journey. Without orientation, students would not know how to navigate the often confusing and complex world of higher education. Orientation can teach students about so many vital things, from finding their way around campus to how to use the library. More importantly, it can set the foundation for the entire higher education journey and experience of students.

Currently South Africa does not have any national standards or guidelines with regard to good practice for orientation. Orientation tends to be a 'mixed bag' of various activities and programmes conducted at an institutional and departmental level. There is a great deal of variation in understanding what orientation is (or should be), the content that should be offered, who should be involved in orientation, and what the outcome(s) of orientation should be.

We need to know more and do better.

Why don't we know enough about orientation? How do we change this state of affairs?

In May 2017 the South African National Resource Centre 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 best practices for orientation programmes. 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. We talked and debated and argued. We shared our ideas and strategies. We agreed that a national stance and guiding document on best practice for orientation in the South African context would work to provide institutions with some much-needed guidance as they continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of higher education.

Post Summit 2017, work focused on: (1) gathering more information on orientation programmes nationally; (2) sourcing national and 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 obtained from (1) and (2) to develop national guidelines for best practice for orientation in higher education in South Africa. It is toward this end that in 2019 we were able to release an SANRC Thought Series 4 report entitled National Guidelines for Good Practice in Orientation. Noting that this report will shortly be downloadable under Resources on the SANRC website.

Want to know more? We have been working on national good practice guidelines for some time now. Let's support our students. Let's encourage everyone in the higher education space to take orientation more seriously and see it for the game-changing potential that it holds. Watch this space for more information as we continue to work on this important initiative.

Delegates listen intently at the 2017 Orientation Summit.

The Orientation Summit provided much food for thought for delegates.

Dr Soraya Motsabi addresses the 2017 Orientation Summit with a tribute to Ms Susanne Taylor, UJ Director: Special Projects.

Prof Ian Scott from UCT makes his point.

'Ice-breaker' questions gave participants the opportunity to discuss their institutional perspectives.

Dr Trust Nkomo from University of Mpumalanga explains about his university's decision to change the name of their orientation guide for students.