Best Practices for Virtual Review Experiences
This briefing is a partner to the Best Practices for the Self Study used to help units undergoing review plan and implement their program review self-study experience.
- Acknowledge up front that the self-study reflections and activities may be impacted by the virtual nature of interactions if the unit undergoing review is not able to meet in person. Work collectively to emphasize an inclusive experience.
- Recognize the program review cycle is long, in many cases almost a decade. Delays can impact overall program planning, assessment and advocacy opportunities. Virtual self-study processes and review team visits are a way to move ahead with review activities, knowing the longer-term benefits and goals outweigh any short-term impacts.
- Allow additional time for the self-study if the unit intends to hold retreats or administer surveys to faculty, students, and alumni to secure feedback.
- Consider more frequent, but shorter, meetings to discuss self-study activities. Be mindful of Zoom fatigue and leave time for breaks.
- Ensure future goals and plans are not entirely considered through the lens of the pandemic or current budget constraints, while remaining realistic about the current situation’s impact on campus and budget operations.
THE SITE VISIT
- A virtual site visit schedule of session topics can generally follow the same guidance as those conducted in person on campus. See the budget and process memo for additional details.
- When creating the schedule, the priority should be to give the review team members a positive and effective experience. Build in ample breaks to keep everything on schedule, at least 10 minutes between sessions. Ask the team members if they have responsibilities to work around (i.e., because they are not traveling they may have childcare or teaching commitments they will keep).
- Keep in mind time zone differences for the team members, if applicable. Ideally no session will begin before 8-8:30am ET (later if PT participants are on the team) or end after 5:30-6pm ET. Consider breaking for 30-60 minutes at meal times, again keeping in mind time zone differences for meals.
- Generally a virtual site visit should be spread out over more days. Typically for an in-person site visit the team travels on day 1 and opens with a dinner with the unit being reviewed, spends a full day/evening on campus, and then wraps up on the third day by mid-afternoon. With virtual visits, consider if Zoom sessions with ample breaks can be spaced throughout the usual 2.5 days or, more likely, spread out across 3-4 days. If additional time is desired, the team and university administrators need to be asked as soon as possible about their availability to change their calendars.
- Consider two options for Zoom meetings, both of which could work well.
- One Zoom line for the entire site visit. This allows all participants, and the external team members in particular, to just use one line. It also means waiting rooms will likely be used to prevent overlap of sessions and participants, especially for any sensitive meetings.
- Separate Zoom lines for each session during the site visit. This may be more cumbersome for the external team members but prevents issues with session overlap and allows participants to be online and ready (enable “allow participants to join before host”) when the review team arrives.
- Assign one faculty or staff member to be on point for Zoom needs, including starting the sessions, assigning co-host responsibilities to others, and checking in occasionally to make sure sessions are proceeding well.
- Keep a phone line option available for Zoom meetings in case of internet instability. Encourage participants with unstable connections to turn off video or mute when not speaking.
- Consider asking the internal team member from UNC to serve as a co-host for Zoom sessions. Because the external team members are not affiliated with UNC, their Zoom access may be different.
- Consider the ideal size for Zoom meetings, especially for student sessions. Larger sessions (greater than 12-15 people) can become difficult for solid discussion and sharing. Depending on the size, introductions of all participants should occur first.
- The opening kick-off session with the leadership of the unit being reviewed is still important to hold, even though it cannot occur over a casual meal together. This time can be used for the team to be welcomed, handle introductions and logistical questions, and share an overview from the program before the full visit starts. The opening session with the University administration is focused on an overview of the University, UNC System, and campus context for the reviews.
- While no dedicated time for report writing needs to be included in the schedule, it is advisable to plan at least a 1-hour session for the team alone to process feedback they’ve heard and map out their plan for distributing report writing responsibilities. Ideally the team will be given several sessions alone throughout the visit to process what they have heard and plan for their next steps, in essence replacing “hallway breaks”.
- Consider creative ways to showcase physical facilities, if desired. Some units need to show research/experiential spaces and others will want to highlight space constraints. Just because the team is not present in person does not mean physical space needs should be removed from the schedule.
- The self-study should be electronic only via a website or emailed PDFs, assuming it is easily accessible, organized, and readable. If a Microsoft Teams or interactive site is used make sure it is clear to the team how to use it or ping them occasionally with what appendices or extra information can be found there.