5 Things to Consider When Planning a Virtual Graduation

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Image sourced from University of Pittsburgh

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly thrust us into the future. Digital technologies have become more entrenched in our daily lives in the past two months than they have over the past two years.

If we want to see our loved ones, we jump onto a Teams or Zoom call, if we want to engage in some retail therapy, we turn to eCommerce companies and outlets. There are very few aspects of our day-to-day lives that have not been altered in some way, shape or form by the coronavirus.

When it comes to schooling, both younger learners and tertiary-level students have had to adapt to a whole new world of remote learning. Digital tools have made this process a bit easier, and have enabled students to stay on top of their game, even while learning from home.

Another way in which we have seen the current situation completely disrupt age-old traditions would be in the rise of the virtual graduation. In South Africa, universities have done their best to try and perfect these virtual graduations in order to replicate the esteemed nature of their traditional counterpart.


However, for many young students, going virtual in this sense can be quite anti-climactic, especially after the countless hours of study and many sleepless nights that they have invested in their academic endeavours.

For this reason, it is crucial that universities and even high schools are as prepared for these virtual graduations as possible, in order to give these young alumni the type of graduation they deserve and will remember.

Here are some useful steps that educational institutions can follow in order to make the virtual graduation day as seamless and enjoyable as possible:

1. Estimate Audience Headcount and Event Duration

The first step is to get an accurate estimate of the size of your audience for your virtual graduation. This includes students, faculty presenters, and event speakers as well as virtual “plus-ones” in the form of parents, relatives and friends.

Depending on the number of viewers, your cost to use video conferencing software might change – though some companies are offering schools the opportunity to host live graduations for up to 100,000 viewers.

Once you have a clearer idea of attendance, it’s time to decide on the duration. Will it last 1 hour? 2 hours or more? It’s important to know how long the virtual graduation will last, as some video conferencing software is time-limited.

Be aware of these limits and determine where your budget lands to find the sweet spot. At the same time, a lengthy virtual graduation might become tedious or lose the interest of students. Keep in mind their attention span.

2. 1-Way/2-Way Communication and Private vs. Public Cloud

First, consider whether to use private or public cloud to host your institution’s virtual graduation. For IT teams that have dedicated software services, data infrastructure and a strong internal network, a private cloud solution might be the right choice to provide enterprise-level security and flexibility.

On the other hand, using a public cloud provider could lower expenses, reduce overhead, and raise reliability at scale by storing data in a provider’s data centre and accessing using a web browser. This comes at the expense of controlling precisely where your data is stored and secured.

Then, determine whether the virtual graduation ceremony will be one-way or two-way. In the first scenario, only a designated set of speakers and presenters have their audio enabled.

In the second scenario, other users can be granted access to speak – such as having a student speaker chime in during the ceremony. This will also determine whether or not students’ webcams will be enabled during the virtual graduation or turned off. Consider what makes the most sense for your circumstances.

3. Decide Video Definition Quality

4K or 480p? Discuss with your internal team how the video for the virtual graduation will be recorded, the format, definition, and number of cameras, if the event is live-streamed. Keep in mind your bandwidth and resources to make video quality as high-definition as is feasible.

4. Do a Dry “Run of Show”

Three to five days before the event, bring together all your speakers and presenters for a practice run through the entire virtual graduation. Have each speaker test their audio and video, try out all the controls to switch between presenters, and go through the event’s flow. You might also want to bring in a video director to recommend certain clothing, lighting, and location choices for all speakers and presenters.

5. Provide Clear Access Instructions

More than just sending out a “link” or access code, provide clear directions on when and how your audience can access their virtual graduation. Over-communicate, if necessary, with multiple emails and even create a list of FAQs to address viewer concerns.

By Ghassan Azzi, Africa Sales Director at Western Digital

Edited by Jenna Delport
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