Adapting Residential Life Events to the Covid-19 Situation: Adding the Human Touch

Noor Hidayu Binte Ahmad, King Edward VII Hall
LIEW Yong Xuan, Life Sciences, Faculty of Science (FoS), King Edward VII Hall
YANG Zi Yun, Computer Engineering, King Edward VII Hall

Hidayu, Yong Xuan, and Zi Yun discuss how they organised KEVII’s first virtual Grad Night and how it has enriched their understanding of addressing student life needs within this new normal.

 

Residential life is serious business at King Edward VII (KEVII) Hall. The academic year is chockful of events and activities ranging from cultural performances, sports events, and opportunities for residents at KEVII to come together to “makan” and these are typically attended by the whole resident population. This year however, the pandemic had other plans for us.

The annual Grad Night is one event in which KEVII celebrates its graduating residents and typically sees a turnout of about 100 attendees, with musical performances, speeches, video tributes, food, and ends with good conversations and spirited photo-taking. As the COVID-19 situation developed, guidelines on university activities changed rapidly. It was clear that we had to get creative if we wanted to give our Class of 2020 a proper, timely farewell—something “regular” in a time of uncertainty.

We trudged forward, using Zoom as the medium for our e-Grad Night event—KEVII’s first co-curricular e-event. It took us two dry runs, as well as numerous discussions and troubleshooting sessions to get it right.

Here, we share lessons we learned.

Challenge 1: How do we make the session fun?

  • Establish a ‘fun’ and festive mood

In organising for an audience who had seen it all on Zoom for e-learning, we felt it was important to differentiate our event from formal learning. We did so through details such as the event time, “space”, and in our communications. We held the event in the evening, the pre-pandemic golden hour for Hall activities, conveyed a festive atmosphere in our e-invites, and specified a fun dress code. We wanted our graduands to relax and be themselves amongst close friends.

  • Pictures or it didn’t happen!

One main challenge was figuring out the logistics of taking that coveted graduation picture at the end of Grad Night. As Zoom’s Gallery View displays only 49 attendees onscreen and at a relatively low resolution, we used the Breakout Room function instead to ensure better quality. This was a team effort, requiring coordination by our three-person team, with the emcee talking on while attendees were routed to their respective breakout rooms (see Figure 1 for the results).

Figure 1. Graduation Photo on e-Grad Nite
Photo courtesy of Teh Zhi Da

Challenge 2: What were the logistics involved in organising a real-time e-programme with variety?

  • Variety in the programme

Variety keeps the audience engaged. To ensure this, we had videos produced by some juniors and Class Ambassadors which took the graduands down memory lane. We arranged for a music performer who gamely came on board and played “The Graduation March” on the euphonium—an eccentric addition to the programme for sure. Most importantly, we had everyone sharing, only if for a few seconds, their KEVII residential life experiences, some of which were teary and touching.

Figure 2. Performer, in red box, dedicating “The Graduation March” to the Class of 2020
Photo courtesy of Noor Hidayu binte Ahmad

Challenge 3: How do we touch hearts despite (the physical) distance and remoteness?

  • Strengthening bonds of friendship

On the event day, some 30 graduands logged in, together with the organising committee and Residential Life team. The event went smoothly, although there were times when we had to improvise to fill in any lags, silences or camera-shy speakers. Nonetheless, the graduands were most encouraging to one another and kept the atmosphere upbeat through their chat messages and facial expressions. They even took good-natured digs at one another. Once they warmed up, the distance dissipated. In fact, many lingered even after the programme ended. If anything, the e-event gave them a sense of closure as they capped off their KEVII experience. They were the heartbeat of the e-event.

We derived an immense sense of satisfaction from executing this e-event for our graduands. Despite the lack of physical presence, with human elements added, we managed to make this virtual event a welcoming one. We also had a better grasp of organising beyond-the-classroom activities (via Zoom), which was also timely as we expect the new normal would necessitate organising more events on a virtual platform.

 

Noor Hidayu Binte Ahmad is part of the Residential Life team in King Edward VII Hall (KEVII Hall). She finds working with students in events-management, through the challenges therein, rewarding as it creates authentic learning experiences and opportunities for meaningful events. She also oversees outreach and alumni engagement for KEVII Hall.

Hidayu can be reached at kehnha@u.nus.edu. 

LIEW Yong Xuan is currently an undergraduate student majoring in Life Science under the NUS Department of Biological Science. As a resident in KEVII Hall, he served as the Head of the Hall Affairs Board, a committee which plans and runs hall-wide social events. Some of his interests related to biodiversity and environment conservation issues.

Yong Xuan can be reached at l_yongxuan@u.nus.edu. 

YANG Zi Yun is currently a Year 2 Computer Engineering student in NUS. As a resident in KEVII Hall, she is the Vice-Head of the CCA, Hall Affairs Board, which plans various hall-wide events to contribute to a warm and fun-filled living environment for residents. Concurrently, as Head of KE Web, she uses IT-related technologies to bring convenience to KEVII residents.

Zi Yun can be reached at ziyun_yang@u.nus.edu.