As part of the Experience Design Case Study course, I had the pleasure to guide the master class of 2019 from the Department of Innovation & Management in Tourism at the FH Salzburg (Salzburg University of Applied Sciences) to apply their learnt knowledge on experience design to organise an immersive online event to welcome the new master students cohort 2020. But how to facilitate a welcome experience for 34 individuals from 18 different countries in times of social distancing?
Designing Immersive Experiences
In order to apply the theoretical principles and foundations of experience design in practice, the third semester Master students, had the chance to organise, stage and facilitate a one-day immersive welcome experience for the Master cohort of 2020. In September 2020, the event was moved online, due to the global pandemic. But can an immersive experience happen virtually?
"It's never enough to just tell people about some new insight. Rather, you have to get them to experience it a way that evokes its power and possibility. Instead of pouring knowledge into people's heads, you need to help them grind a new set of eyeglasses so they can see the world in a new way." - John Seely Brown
The kick-off and ideation process started in May 2019. Within the design-thinking process, the students followed each step of the Event Canvas Model, not only to have the big picture of the future event, but also to put themselves in the shoes of their event attendees. In this phase, students recalled their own feelings about starting the new personal, professional and academic chapter at the FH Salzburg. For this reason, the goal was set to create special immersive experiences for the newcomers that would ease the alienation feelings in the new environment, to attempt the blending process for different cultural backgrounds and to spark a positive attitude which will help also through challenging times.
All aboard – let the journey begin!
To prepare the newcomers for their transformational learning journey , a themed crew was welcoming all participants on board. The common mission was to endow the virtual participants with special skills they will need to get to the final destination of their journey. The virtual event hosted a series of experiences and workshops. Within small groups, participants had to work together in completing a digital treasure hunt, to solve an Escape Room and free their mind within a guided meditation, to mention just a few.
Virtual is here to stay
Online courses have been on the agenda since March 2020. However, this was the first time that students organized an entire event day in an online format. The goal was not to hold an ordinary Zoom meeting. The goal was to create an immersive experience that participants would remember for a long time. Now it can be said that the experiment was a great success. Students learned that rich activities, community engagement and clear instructions are essential for the performance of an online event. Most importantly, they learned that transformative experiences can also take place in a virtual setting. Anything ordinary has the possibility to become a memorable experience, you just have to provide the time and space. This will be the key to success to outshine any other online event in the future.