Innovation in celebration: organizing a hybrid graduation

Student zit in Polak Building met laptop op schoot te werken.
Student studying in the Food Plaza.
Alexander Santos Lima

Graduating is one of the highlights of a student's university career. The arrival of fully or partly online programmes calls for a new interpretation of this celebration. Because how do you ensure that a graduation ceremony is just as special for an online student as for a student who is present in person? Jiao Harmsen, project leader at the Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI), helped organise a hybrid graduation ceremony of the online master 'Psychology of the Digital Media'. From her experiences, she shares insights into the challenges and opportunities involved in organising such an innovative event.

Together with the schools of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), the CLI collaborates within the ErasmusU_Online project to realise online education. This ranges from fully online programmes to online courses. In the 2022-2023 academic year, Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) pioneered the first fully online master's programme: Psychology of the Digital Media (PDM).

For the students who had graduated from this first cohort, a graduation ceremony was organised at the end of 2023. Extra special was that this was EUR's first hybrid graduation ceremony in a public context. Before the corona pandemic, all ceremonies took place offline and during the pandemic this was largely shifted to online. A hybrid ceremony gives students the chance to choose to join online or offline. Additionally, the students who chose to join online could play a more active role in the event.

Screen with the text 'Graduation Ceremony'

Challenges in coordinating the event

Within the organisation of the ceremony, project leader Jiao was responsible for the logistical part. Coordinating a hybrid event for the first time, especially given the online nature of the master, presented several challenges. The organisation also required a lot of research. "Keeping an overview, anticipating the number of students present in the room for catering, and specifically timing different parts were some of the challenges," Jiao said. Via a Miro board, Jiao and her colleagues clearly visualised the event's script. "This helped bring more control and structure to the planning. And that helped us a lot!"

Reaction from students

The hybrid graduation ceremony received positive reactions from students. Both the students who attended physically and the online participants considered it a special moment. Some of the students had travelled from abroad to the Netherlands just to attend the ceremony. "They had followed all their courses online and the students met each other and their lecturers for the first time, which was a special moment," says Gabrielle Martins Van Jaarsveld, lecturer within the PDM programme.

"The students had followed all their courses online and met each other and their lecturers for the first time, which was a special moment"

Lessons learned 

After this successful experience, Jiao sees the possibility of organising more hybrid graduation ceremonies in the future. With the growing acceptance of online learning and the positive response from students, it is definitely a possibility to do this more often in the future, also within other (online) masters. 

For masters considering organising hybrid graduation ceremonies, Jiao has the advice to ask in advance if students want to be able to actively participate. It requires a lot of technical resources to offer students an interactive setting via Zoom, and sometimes there is not necessarily a need for interaction from the participants. A livestream link is easier to set up in this case. Further tips and a guideline for organising a hybrid ceremony can be found in the document at the bottom of this article, which was prepared by Jiao.

The future

Organising a hybrid graduation ceremony was perceived positively by both lecturer and student. The hybrid graduation ceremony is a promising example of an academic celebration that may become increasingly common in the future. This successful experience and the growing acceptance of online learning suggest that hybrid graduation ceremonies are not only a viable option, but can also be a good addition to traditional gatherings.

Find out more

Jiao Harmsen

CLI project leader

Email address

Are you also considering organising a hybrid ceremony for your (online) bachelor's or master's programme and do you have specific questions or do you need a sparring partner? Then get in touch with Jiao. 

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