Time to warm up your class?
Ice-breakers, or ‘warm ups’ are used widely when starting a workshop or group activity…but we often forget about them in online learning, and expect students to rush straight in and expose themselves (academically!) in front of their teacher and peers – who they may not even know. Then we’re surprised when participation is low.
Of course, there are lots of reasons for low participation rates in online interactions, many outside of the influence of the teacher. Yet ice-breakers can play an incredibly important role in setting the tone of the subject, establishing trust for later interactions, and ‘humanising’ the learning experience…making interaction much more enticing. While the old ‘introduce yourself’ activity is fine (and better than some of the more contrived ice-breakers!), it can become very ‘routine’ if used in every subject. It’s a good idea to talk to your colleagues, and vary tactics between subjects.
Tips for success
Rita-Marie Conrad and Ana Donaldson (2011, p.47), in their book Engaging the Online Learner, offer the following ‘checklist’ for developing effective ice-breaker activities, which has been adapted here.
Is your ice-breaker…
- Fun and non-threatening?
- Person-focused, not content focused?
- Require students to read one-another’s messages?
- Require students to find something in common with at least 10% of the cohort?
- Require students to be imaginative, or express openness?
- Require students to respond to each other?
- Simple enough to be done in a short time-frame?
Another important tip is to use the core technology that you’ll be using for interaction during the semester. In particular, if you will be using a technology that students may not be used to (such as a wiki) later on, try to conduct the ice-breaker in that activity as well. You’ll be establishing community and helping them learn how to use the tools in a non-threatening way.
Some ideas to try
A simple google search will reveal hundreds if not thousands of ice-breaker ideas…here are just a few that have been tried successfully in the past (most adapted from Conrad and Donaldson, 2011). Note again that none require students to do anything more than informally share something about themselves, and all require them to respond to other students. This is about community building and encouraging students to use the technology in a non-threatening way.
One word: Think of one word that best describes you or your life – post it to the discussion board (or Padlet, or…), explaining your choice. Make sure you read at least five posts from your peers, and find someone whose word resonates with you. Reply to their post, and try to find at least two additional nouns that you have in common by the end of the week.
Quotes: Similar to the above, share a favourite quote that represents something about yourself (or about how you approach learning, or…). Make sure you read at least five posts from your peers, and respond to someone whose quote resonates with you, letting them know why.
Sentence completions: Provide the start of a sentence, and ask each student to complete the sentences and post to the discussion board (or somewhere else). Make it fun!
Room with a view – Describe what you see outside your window. Weave in some information about yourself that relates to what you see. Read what others have written and respond to at least two of your peers, letting them know why you’d like to trade places for a day.
Things: Find an image, or take a photo of something that reflects who you are or why you are taking this subject. Post it, with a description of why you chose this image, to the discussion board (or Padlet, or…), along with a few sentences about what you are expecting from this class.
Truths and lies: Post two truths and a lie about yourself to the discussion board. Read at least five other posts, and see if you can guess the lie (add your guess as a reply to the post). Of course, the more outlandish your truths and lies, the harder it will be for others to guess! At the end of the week, don’t forget to reveal which were the truths, and why you chose to share these with the class.
As students are responding, don’t forget to respond as well! While responding to every post during the session can stifle conversation, this is the one time when it is highly valuable, letting each student know that you’ve recognised them, and welcomed them into the subject.