New online community helps incoming students connect

Web imageA new social-networking site for Oswego’s first-year students, The Laker allows newcomers to make early connections and offers components to cement students’ bonds to Oswego.

Incoming students can use The Laker to befriend other students, residence hall staff and FirstChoice advisers before they start school, said coordinator Jackie Campbell, assistant director of advisement, first-year retention and assessment at the Compass.

All freshmen are registered for the system and incoming transfers can sign up as well. First-year students registered for GST 100 will have requirements to participate in The Laker and campus events.

“They’ll get one credit for logging in, having fun and reading articles,” Campbell said.

“As far as social networking goes, it’s a way of making connections with other students and the Oswego community,” Campbell said. “They can meet people and find out ways to get involved.”

Student leaders, faculty advisers and staff are in the system to interact with and help guide incoming students.

“It also provides educational opportunities through a featured article every week on topics like making connections with faculty, study tips, orientation — things that are important in their life at that period in time,” Campbell explained.

The community was designed by Education Dynamics, which purchased Goalquest, a system Oswego has used. “The company researches what keeps students’ attention, so they try to keep articles fun and targeted,” Campbell said.

Already active discussion boards host topics such as where students are from, which orientation session they will attend and where they will live. Links for majors and residence halls will allow students to find and connect with others studying the same subject or living in the same building.

Students can join groups listing specific goals such as “I want to make a lot of friends,” “I want to get a 4.0” or “I want to make a difference in someone’s life.” Student leaders and advisers can make suggestions on how students can meet their desired goals. Participants will be able to create their own groups to find people with similar interests and to promote or find out more about campus events.

The system also serves as a student retention tool, Campbell said, with students encouraged to answer questions about their abilities and how they are doing. Struggling students will have opportunities for support through the system from their residence hall director, first-year adviser and/or FirstChoice instructor. If a student isn’t attending classes or admits difficulties, they can be contacted privately yet directly.

“These connections are made earlier so we can identify those students at risk” and address their issues, Campbell said.

“Higher participation rates are shown to lead to higher retention rates,” Campbell noted. “We want at least 88 to 90 percent of first-year students to participate in the program throughout the year, to keep them actively engaged and to keep them here for their sophomore year.”

Because access is restricted to incoming students and designated mentors, it represents a more controlled and safe environment not found on MySpace, Facebook or other sites, Campbell said.

In addition, a Laker Family and Friends online community will launch in July to keep parents and other student supporters engaged, Campbell said. “It’s more a support mechanism for the parents than a social networking site,” she said. “It will feature articles on how to support their first-year students and opportunities to ask questions.”

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(Posted: Jun 24, 2008)

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