CLEVELAND, Miss.— Delta State University’s Spring 2021 commencement ceremonies could be a case study for an interesting phenomenon that transpired during the 2020 academic year.
Small clusters of families strategically situated in the Delta State’s Walter Sillers Coliseum proudly looked on as their graduate crossed the stage. Less visible, though, were the 2,800 additional individuals watching and praising the new graduates in the chatbox as they viewed the live broadcast of the event.
These virtual viewers tuned in from places like India, France and Singapore—a total of 28 countries around the globe. Most of them, 73 percent, watched the event in real-time. Since the day of the ceremonies on April 30, watch time for the video has continued to climb to more than 40,000 hours and counting.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles McAdams believes the global appeal can be attributed in part to Delta State’s growing international footprints.
“I believe the large number of countries represented by the viewers of commencement reflects our international impact and our commitment to our international students. It also reflects our success in creating a welcoming environment to our international students and their families,” he said.
To McAdam’s point, 2021 graduates included students from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Spain and Sweden.
Dean of Graduate & Continuing Studies and Research Dr. Beverly Moon added that viewership from 28 countries confirms that offering both physical and virtual attendance of the ceremonies is necessary, especially today.
“With travel so restricted, we provided the best possible venue for families and friends of our international students from around the world to view—live or archived—our more traditional ‘awarding of degrees’ ceremony,” she noted.
The increased reach was not limited to only live-streamed University events like commencement, but also through video-conferencing technology.
According to data provided by DSU’s Office of Information Technology, during the past 12 months, DSU has hosted more than 31,000 online meetings utilizing the video-conferencing platform Zoom.
These virtual meetings allowed students to attend classes from various places around the world and provided the DSU community with an outlet to continue interacting when face-to-face contact was discouraged due to health and safety concerns.
Mirroring the international reach of live-streamed events, the top 10 countries that connected to the campus via Zoom included: the United States; Sri Lanka; Costa Rica; Vietnam; Nigeria; the United Kingdom; Spain; the Philippines; Canada and Italy.
“The technology used to make commencement available to those who could not attend is consistent with the technology we used to accommodate both students and faculty during the pandemic,” said McAdams.
“Many people were quite anxious regarding face-to-face contact this past year, and our use of technology provided an alternative for instructional and non-instructional activities in order for us to sustain the delivery of educational experiences to our students,” he added.
Director of Information Technology Dr. Edwin Craft said that while the increased use of technology was already occurring organically, the shift to virtual events and meetings was expediated following the onset of the global pandemic.
“What the country has faced with the pandemic has been tough. Throughout this time, many institutions have looked to IT to develop solutions to allow the educational process to continue,” said Craft.
“Because DSU had many of these systems already in place, we were able to ramp up quickly to meet the new demands brought on by the pandemic.”
According to Craft, while the pandemic could not have been predicted, fortunately, the University was in a solid position to make a seamless transition.
“Twenty years ago, this would not have been possible, but thanks to technology, we were able to continue providing classes and moving forward with critical business processes,” he said.
As everyone anxiously awaits the return to some semblance of normalcy, one big takeaway from this past year has been the adoption and utilization of technology to keep us connected.
“As we move forward, we will take the lessons learned and continue to apply them—lessons such as, providing virtual access to the commencement so that individuals unable to travel to our campus can participate and let our graduates know how much they are proud of the milestones that DSU students have achieved,” said Craft.