My travel and speaking schedule in Fall 2012 was so intense that, although I took plenty of notes and photos at the 2012 Ontario Universities’ Fair, I didn’t get around to writing up this blog until a year later! Sorry for the delay… but I couldn’t very well allow an uninterrupted blogging streak from 2006 end because of one busy month!
I’ve been attending the OUF for more than 8 years now, since 2004 or 5, and every year the exhibition gets bigger and more professional. (More than we can say for most fall Fairs.) Outside in the SkyWalk to Union Station, the Student Life Expo (SLE) has grown in the past few years too, and in 2012 it maxxed out the limited space available for Ontario colleges and out-of-province institutions to exhibit. (In 2013, the SLE is taking over the Metro Toronto Convention Centre entirely, on a different weekend than the OUF.) What follows is my attempt to summarize the latest trends.
Way back in 2006, the University of Windsor introduced a new exhibit booth design using bistro tables and stools, to encourage prospective students to sit down and chat a while. In 2007, Brock introduced a new booth design that also drew the crowds inside for interaction. In 2008, McMaster adopted a new booth design with curving circular walls that created an oasis of relative calm for students inside, and in 2011 revamped it to be even more inviting. In 2010, uWaterloo followed suit with a new booth design that encouraged crowds to wander inside its pillars. In 2012, this clear trend went even further, as Trent’s exhibit space turned into a lounge with comfy armchairs and coffee tables.
Algoma’s exhibit also featured bistro tables and stools.
uOttawa moved to a new booth design that did away with the long wall of counters and replaced it with an inviting space surrounded by LCD screens and banners.
Laurier launched a bright new exhibit design, with strikingly futuristic white bistro stools.
York’s exhibit booth didn’t offer seating for students, but the presentation room included lounge areas, bistro tables and standard rows of chairs for the presentation itself.
Brock’s presentation room moved away from row-style seating in favour of bistro tables as well.
Although there are still a few small, simple exhibits with little more than a pop-up banner and a tabletop of print materials, the “new normal” includes plenty of full-motion video monitors and jazzy graphics, often highlighting a series of statistics about the institution, or photos of researchers or students. Often these line the back wall of exhibit booths, or are added in a cluster as what looks like perhaps an afterthought (sorry, York).
UOIT’s presentation room featured a simulation of campus using a wall-sized projection screen and audio recordings of birds and crickets.
Confederation College used a large vertical touchscreen to engage passersby.
StFX’s exhibit went the extra mile, adding a video wall with real-time videoconferencing link to its campus. (I selected this tactic as one of the “Bright Ideas” to launch the Eduvation IdeaBank; check it out here.)
Nipissing used large touchscreens to bring their virtual campus tour to the OUF.
In the presentation rooms, there was a noticeable improvement in the quality of the intro video clips, which now feature more and better student testimonials.
Another trend that seems to continue gathering steam: more and more institutions are using iPads or laptops to collect contact information from prospective students at their OUF exhibits. Nipissing’s new exhibit features brightly-coloured info pillars, with shelves of viewbooks and iPad stations, marked by hovering discs above.
uAlberta’s exhibit in the SkyWalk featured iPads and a none-too-subtle jab at uCalgary’s ambition to be “Top 5 by 2015.”
The exhibits for Fanshawe, Mohawk, Conestoga and others in the SLE also included prominent iPads for data collection.
Some exhibits, like Brock’s, included possibly less sexy but much more efficient iMac workstations, with full-size keyboards for easy data entry.
As noted above, many of the iPads and laptops were positioned to gather contact information, and almost always a prize incentive was offered. Contests for big money off tuition have spread like wildfire, both inside the OUF and in the SLE outside. UNB offered students a choice of an iPad, a MacBook Air, or a $2,500 tuition credit, and parents a $500 tuition credit.
Cambrian College offered a chance to win a $2,500 scholarship.
Inside the MTCC exhibit hall, RBC Royal Bank had a prime position to promote the change to win 1 of 3 “$5,000 Frosh Funds.”
Algoma U offered students the chance to win cool prizes, and a chance of a $5,000 scholarship, by finding the Algoma guide (wearing a bright red “Get on the Bus” t-shirt), and encouraged students to follow along on Twitter and Facebook.
Laurentian offered students the chance to win a university t-shirt by checking in to their exhibit on SquareSpace.
York encouraged students to tweet to win free tuition.
Brock’s “Spin to Win” slot machine was back this year, bigger and brighter than ever, offering immediate gratification to contest entrants with a short attention span.
Algonquin College had an eye-catching technical display (that looked like a red light sabre as much as anything), to draw attention to their new Bachelor of Information Technology (Photonics and Laser Technology). Yes, fans of Austin Powers, college recruitment now has “frickin’ lasers!”
uWindsor booth volunteers included “Wilbur,” a skeleton on an exercise bike to promote the Kinesiology program.
York brought what looked like a Mars Rover to its presentation room (although its bumper sticker says “Office of the Vice President” so evidently it wasn’t bound for Mars).
Although UNB had a small booth in the SkyWalk, they maximized its impact by plastering nearby walls and even floor tiles with their message. (Mohawk and Humber Colleges did likewise.)
Although you won’t see it at Ontario university booths inside the MTCC (I’m sure there are contracts in place to protect the healthy profit margins on unhealthy foods in the cafeteria), outside in the SkyWalk La Cité Collègiale was handing out “Dippin’ Dots,” the “ice cream of the future.”
And just like Hallowe’en in the old days, there was a responsible set of grown-ups handing out healthy snacks – apples fresh from Durham Region.
Prospective students would have to attend a Trent University presentation upstairs to get “a pair of cool Trent Sunglasses.”
The 2012 SLE included exhibits from several Quebec universities, such as Bishop’s and Concordia.
It was interesting, too, to see Canadore and Northern Colleges mount a joint booth, with co-branded t-shirts.
St Lawrence College offered prospective students the opportunity to get a “YouBook” (a customized Viewbook).
All things considered, there was quite a bit to report from the 2012 OUF… but if I missed something you think is important, please add your thoughts in the comments below!
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