Distance Orientation

The Client

Columbia College Chicago is the largest and most diverse private, nonprofit arts and media college in the nation.

The Problem

Columbia has an award-winning orientation program that all new students are required to attend before their first semester. With their out-of-state population on the rise, traveling to campus was becoming a bigger financial burden for more and more students. They needed an online alternative that delivered the same high-quality experience.

The Result

The new Distance Orientation program saw an increase in both student participation and completion four semesters in a row.

The program was so successful that Columbia turned it into a series of three programs, including one to supplement on-campus orientation for students who still make the trip.

All incoming students (around 2,500 per year) are now required to take one of these distance programs.

My Role

(May 2013 – December 2014)

  • Curriculum Development — Created an online orientation to mirror the on-campus program that included modules of text, video, and quizzes. Information is major-specific and personalized for special populations such as transfer students, Honors students, and international students.
  • Production — Identified content areas and gathered necessary information from corresponding departments. Wrote cohesive copy for the modules, video scripts, and documentation for staff members supporting students enrolled in the program. Produced +25 short videos for the program.
  • Operations — Worked closely with IT to build the program in Moodle, an open-source LMS, and ensured seamless connection with Columbia’s proprietary systems. Built follow-up system that made it easy for advisors and support staff to check in with every student when they reached specific benchmarks in the program.

“Caro’s work on the Columbia College Distance Orientation program was phenomenal.

Under tight deadlines and while coordinating input from across all of Columbia’s academic departments, she compiled audio, video, and text content into a program that gave our incoming students clear, concise, and actionable information on advising, registration, and campus life.”

– Andrew Whatley, Assistant Dean


An early problem I needed to solve was how to show students the campus from a distance.

The on-campus program doesn’t include a formal tour, but students spend the day exploring the campus as they progress from session to session. Many later credit this experience as one that makes them feel more comfortable navigating the campus during their first week. We needed to find a way to replicate this experience!

Since lots of Columbia students commute to campus via bike, we opted to do this with a bike tour. I recruited a former on-campus Orientation Leader to be the guide for Distance Orientation students. We mounted a GoPro camera to both his handlebars and bike helmet, and spent a cold Chicago morning touring the campus.

In addition to the video, students were given a custom campus map that replicates Justin’s ride, with noted points of interest. This map was print-ready, with places for them to note their class schedule so they had a pocket guide to carry around during their first weeks on campus.

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