Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Online Graduation Ceremonies

Tom Worthington with MEd
at a DIY ceremony
One issue which has been raised by both university administrators and students is how to conduct graduation ceremonies while maintaining social distancing for COVID-19. This may seem trivial, but it is important emotionally, and practically for students. In 2017 I conducted my own remote graduation ceremony. I was awarded an MEd in Distanced Education by Athabasca University. Appropriately, I studied entirely online from Australia. On graduation Athabasca mailed me a masters hood in an envelope. I added the hood over a standard black academic gown from my last graduation, and wore them in the academic procession at the institution where I teach in Canberra. Then I paid to have my photo taken along with the local graduates.

1. Award Degrees As soon as Students Qualify

I suggest adopting the practice of online universities, where degrees are awarded as soon as the student meets all requirements. The student has the option of attending a ceremony later. Awarding of degrees should not be delayed for ceremonies, and there should not be just a one off special case for COVID-19.

2. Send Students a Certificate and Ask for a Photo

Send the graduates their certificate, and something to wear or show.  Encourage students to conduct their own local ceremony, where their parent, or loved one, presents them with their certificate. Where social distancing rules allow, they could have a local ceremony with students of other institutions, conducted by a local dignitary. Have the student send a photo to the university to be used in their ceremony.

3. Stream an Academy Awards Style Ceremony Online

I suggest the university conduct an academy awards style ceremony streamed online. This would have speeches live, recorded videos from major award winners, and the rest of the graduates appearing in a montage of the images they provided.

4. Digital Certificates

This would also be a good time for universities to introduce digital certificates. Prospective employers will be reluctant to accept paper certificates from candidates, for health and logistical reasons. Applicants who can provide digitally authenticated evidence of their qualification, rather than just an easily faked paper or scanned copy, will have an advantage in the job market. As well as providing digital certificates, universities should also put in place procedures for accepting them.

5. Standing Invitation to Later Ceremony

Universities could invite students who can't get to that year's graduation ceremony to attend one next year, or any time in the future, even decades later. In my case I could not afford to fly 13,000 km to attend, but if I happen to be on that side of the planet some time in the future it would be nice to have some pomp and circumstance.

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