Surviving in the real world: Higher Education meets reality TV

“I feel normal watching these people,” says one girl of a new “Reality TV” concept that took off in September. It isn’t Survivor, Fear Factor or The Amazing Race—unlike those shows, this “program” can only be seen at her University and is considered by students to be more constructive and much more real. In fact, it is real.

“Real” is the name of an innovative new video that was added to Trinity Western University’s First Year Experience program this fall. Each week, first year students pile into their University 101 class, as the “real” video begins, unraveling the occurrences of the lives of Trevor, Jordan and Shayla from the past week. These three first year students agree to have their student life spontaneously video-taped and shown to their peers throughout their first semester.

But unlike big-budget Hollywood shows, with goals is to entertain and shock its audience, “real” has been carefully crafted to help students deal with the stress and complications that can arise as a result of being a first year student.

“The first segment with Jordan is really comical and shows how university isn’t smooth and you can get lost,” says first year student, Jaydene Erickson. “It made me feel more comfortable if I messed up, because he messed up too.”

Now in its second year, University 101 is a one credit class that students attend their first semester at Trinity. Cathy Chapplow, Director of the First Year Experience explains the purpose behind the video.

“The goal of “real” is to normalize student transition issues,” she says, “and show them that other students are feeling the same things, by showing them the scope of three different student experiences.”

Before classes began in September, potential students were contacted, and asked if they’d be willing to take part in an “experiment” that no student had done before, let alone heard of. In addition to being followed and filmed, these students would be asked self-discovery questions such as, “How do I handle stress?” “How do I manage my homework?” and “Who am I?”—all to be shown on screen in front of 600 of their peers.

Three brave students said yes, meeting the pre-set quota of three different TWU groups: a male resident, a female resident and a commuter. Jordan Youd of California, Shayla Potvin of Ottawa and Trevor Birak of Surrey each filled the respective positions.

Though fourth year students Tina Francis, Videographer, and Mike Wipf, Production Coordinator, are two key people to thank for “real”’s success, in the beginning they were not so sure if the project would sink or swim.

“Tina and I put our all into it,” recalls Wipf. “We gave it all we had, but we were still quite skeptical of how the video would go over with the students. So once it was shown to the freshman class, we were relieved to find out how much they loved it. And Tina and I were like, really? They really like it?”

“The good thing is that students watching can relate to any one of the video students’ diverse personalities, or at least to similar situations,” adds Francis. “And that’s the whole purpose of the video. It’s not just, ‘oh this is fun times’, or, ‘what a cool class’, but it is a time for all first year students to go on this journey of self discovery—the video sets that in motion.”

Students agreed with Tina’s perception. “It was helpful because they had the same fears and worries I was feeling,” says first year nursing student, Erin Fitzpatrick. “I remember when Shayla was talking about how she felt overwhelmed and didn’t know if she could do it—well that really hit.”

Jered Love, a communications student from Alaska said he “likes that MTV flavor” it has. “We can all relate to the music and to everything. I didn’t know Jordan at the time, but to see life from his perspective and the fact that he was totally honest was really cool.”

As the semester winds to a close, Shayla, Trevor and Jordan, the mini-stars of TWU appear to have survived their first semester at university, along with their 600 first-year peers. While university proves itself to be an amazing race of ups and downs, fear and triumph, “real” watchers have learned one thing—no matter what they are feeling, thinking and experiencing, they are normal and not alone.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a not-for-profit Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,200 students this year. With a broad based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 38 major areas of study ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 other graduate degrees including counseling psychology, theology and administrative leadership

Last Updated: 2015-07-13
Author: Keela Keeping