Virtual Parent Engagement: Insight Discussion Series

As colleges and universities across the world become increasingly globalized communities, parent and family programs professionals must be creative with the ways in which we engage parents and families and strengthen their connection to our institutions. Often, it is simply not feasible for families to get to campus or, in return, to bring campus staff and faculty to families across the world. In determining how to fill this gap at UCLA, our Parent & Family Programs team recognized that the digital resources at our fingertips presented us with a great opportunity: to create a virtual discussion space where UCLA parents and families can feel personally connected to the individuals and issues their students encounter the most. 

Following two years of intermittent installments intended to assess the effectiveness of this avenue, our team formalized and rolled out Bruin Family Insights: A YouTube Live Virtual Discussion Series. These discussions are monthly, hour-long YouTube Live events in which we virtually gather a panel of campus administrators, faculty and student leaders to answer UCLA families’ questions about topics of mutual interest. The intention behind Bruin Family Insights is to provide a formal link to the university, enable parents to engage with their student’s experience, and create a virtual space that empowers them to be an effective support system for their student. UCLA family members have the opportunity to submit their own questions ahead of time when they register or live during the discussion. The live option provides participants the opportunity to interact with influential campus entities in a manner typically only available by visiting campus. 

Since August 2017 we have been able to explore a variety of topics including Greek life, student mental health and wellness, and parent-student communication. In 2018 we are working to incorporate engagement opportunities around campus-wide initiatives such as UCLA’s 2018 Common Book, which situates family as a central theme of its story. In the first quarter of the series alone, webinar recordings have received nearly 2,500 views and RSVPs (by household) consistently range from 100-150 for each event. Interest in these events is high and event impact is ongoing, as families can watch recordings of these events via our website (and YouTube channel) long after the live discussion takes place.

While we continue to grow the program, we have seen great success with this initiative thus far and believe it can be a key programmatic offering for institutions seeking to help parents and families (especially those living at a significant distance from the university) become more closely connected to their institution. For those offices considering a virtual event or program, here are some important considerations to make when exploring this engagement outlet:

  • Identify a reliable and accessible streaming method. We utilize YouTube Live/Google Hangouts to broadcast and record Bruin Family Insights. This has been an extremely effective outlet for our purposes; however, what works for your institution may be different. Research the platforms available to you (i.e. YouTube Live, Zoom, etc.) and determine what will best meet your needs. 
  • Plan ahead. There is a lot of leg work that happens prior to each of our virtual discussions. We secure panelists, schedule and conduct event run-throughs, market the events as a quarterly package and individual programs (largely via email and social media), write a script for hosts and panelists with pre-scripted questions (in the event that audience question submissions are low) and manage event registration. It is imperative to work ahead and develop a system that is catered to the intended outcomes and scale of your virtual discussion program.
  • Create and maintain good structure. This is imperative to developing the aforementioned system. Establish steps and structure for outreach, marketing, assessment, content development, etc. so that the each webinar runs like clockwork and the process becomes second nature to your team. Tapping into productivity platforms like Google Drive, creating email and script templates, and developing a standard timeline for event implementation are all ways to be successful in this area. 
  • Consider the flow of the academic year. There are so many topics to cover and it can be overwhelming to determine where to start. It is helpful to plan your discussions with broader campus/academic themes. For example, we hosted a webinar for new families about transitioning to campus life as orientation was winding down and move-in was on the horizon. Our student mental health discussion was scheduled around midterms, and our discussion addressing parent-student communication aired the week students would be returning home for the winter break. Think about what placement makes sense and move forward from there.
  • Engage your population in a variety of ways. Bruin Family Insights is both for and by UCLA parents. Members of our Parents’ Council assist in narrowing down topic lists, provide feedback on scripted questions, and host our virtual discussions. We also seek to actively engage our general parent and family population by way of soliciting discussion questions, potential future topics and event feedback.
  • Start small and build out. The building process for a virtual discussion series may seem daunting and time-consuming. Starting with a few standalone “exclusive” virtual discussion opportunities can help you gauge the interest of your population, determine your team’s best practices, and become more comfortable with this digital platform in general. Once you’ve assessed where you are with these events and where you’d like to go, you can build your discussions into a signature programming series. 

Bruin Family Insights has been a valuable addition to our office’s programming efforts and we hope that you will find success with a virtual discussion-style initiative! To learn more about Bruin Family Insights, visit our website or feel free to email me at [email protected].

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