The First-Ever Virtual Clubs Fair


It took some getting used to, as student and employee avatars zoomed around the “Team Suite” section of Branksome Hall’s Open U, a private campus on the VirBELA platform. More than 300 attendees visited virtual Clubs Fair presentations last month, including in breakout rooms off the main halls—although the fact one’s avatar could literally walk through others milling around, like ghosts, made navigation a breeze.

"You could see from all the activity that we'd achieved something unique, and yet familiar, in a way a Zoom call wouldn't have allowed for,” says Michael Ianni-Palarchio, Director, Technology and Innovation.

Baking Club proved to be a popular choice, as browsers were invited into a room with a PowerPoint presentation of decorated, pink cupcakes embedded in the 3D, virtual walls. Each club had worked, in the preceding weeks, on a presentation that was featured in their assigned space, as speculative recruits dropped by to mingle, ask questions and possibly sign up on the spot.

“The Virtual Fair went really well for me and my fellow Baking Club club head Charlotte,” says Emma. Perhaps a heightened need for comfort cooking during these times is the reason? “It was unexpected that so many people would show up.”

On offer were clubs ranging from enjoyable, such as Dungeons and Dragons, to the visionary, such as the Diversity Club. Sophie, who was attending from Germany, where she attends the school online via Virtual Branksome, had worked on a presentation to share the Diversity Club’s mandate: “Our objective is to make everyone feel comfortable at Branksome. This means we address relevant and possibly difficult topics such as discrimination of any form.” This particular club has cross-alliances with the Gender Equality Club and the Black Students’ Union, also in attendance.

Clubs Prefect Lauren couldn’t have anticipated the reimagining of Clubs Fair, an annual fall event. However, she worked overtime to ensure its success.

“This being the first-ever Virtual Clubs Fair, I truly didn't know what to expect,” she says, “but once everyone started logging on I saw that so many club heads, teachers and students were as excited and enthusiastic as I was! It was a different experience, for sure, but the VirBELA software catered really nicely to enabling the accessibility of every club.”

As the clubs now start their work for the year, hundreds of community members have had a first-hand experience of what is possible at Open U.

“It's just the beginning,” says Ianni-Palarchio, “now that students, teachers and employees are imagining other uses."

Learn more about Branksome Hall here: https://www.branksome.on.ca/

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