Person using a laptop computer.

Person using a laptop computer.

During the week of July 13, Adventure WV held the nation’s first virtual trip experience for incoming freshmen.

When classes moved online in the spring, director of Adventure WV Marion Holmes and her team had to teach climbing and canopy tour classes in a virtual environment. In the following months, they learned a lot about virtual facilitating through trial and error and from colleagues at other institutions.

“We feel really lucky that we’ve really been working on it since March,” said Holmes. “By the time we are running the first-year trips program we have a lot of these tricks up our sleeves.”

In previous summers, the first-year trip participants would spend a week in the woods, climbing, hiking, whitewater-rafting, and more. Participants now go through a 24-hour experience capped by two video conference calls on back to back nights.

At the beginning of these calls, student trip leaders show a map of the country and ask participants to pinpoint where they’re tuning in from. Holmes said these hook activities help draw participants into the experience.

“Just as with an in-person program, setting the tone is really important,” Holmes said.

Student trip leaders use the full versatility of the video conferencing platform Zoom through asking for answers in the chat, having participants annotate graphics on screen and separating into breakout rooms. Holmes said all of these techniques are intended to pull participants into the virtual environment.

“Don’t just be a passive listener but like to kind of engage with the stuff that’s on your screen and to interact with the others that are in that same environment with you,” She said.

Jillian Linton was a student leader last summer for in-person trips and helped lead this past week’s trip — the first of several dozen first-year trips this summer.   

“Coming from a leader perspective, it was a phenomenal trip experience,” she said.

After the first night session, participants are given two challenges for the next day: Do something new and do something outdoors.

Leaders also participate in the activities and Linton visited a nearby cafe and tried a new desert. Participants aren’t forced to do these simple challenges but it’s highly encouraged.

On the second night participants and student leaders debrief about the new and outdoor activities they tried. The guided discussion links trying something new with their fast approaching college experience. 

Linton said one of her proudest moments was when a participant shared they had been nervous to participate in the first-year trip program but felt accepted and welcomed in the virtual environment.

“I really think it’s just like having a leader crew that genuinely cares about trying to give these incoming freshmen that experience, even though we’re virtual,” Linton said.

Holmes said the goal of the first-year trip program, in-person or virtual, is to help participants learn about themselves, connect with upperclassmen, and learn about the university.

Over a normal summer, just under a thousand students will participate in the first-year trip program. Registration numbers this year are two-thirds of that, but Holmes said she’s still happy with them.

“We’re looking forward to the next four weeks when we really get busy with the trips,” Holmes said.

While other schools plan to run similar virtual outdoor programs in the week immediately preceding the start of the academic year, Adventure WV runs programs all summer long. 

“I haven’t found a colleague yet that has already started running programs,” said Holmes. “Based on what we believe, this week’s trip was the first virtual outdoor orientation program in the country.”

Linton said she and her fellow leaders were excited before the trip but nervous that participants would be on their phone and not engaged with the session. She said the results were the opposite. 

“They were just ready to play Animal Roulette and play silly games,” said Linton. “The buy-in was fantastic with this group and for it to be the first virtual trip, I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything better than that.”