I love icebreakers. Perhaps it is in large part due to my introverted nature – I need a prompt to get to know a room full of strangers rather than bumbling around with feeble weather comments or bee-lining it to the coffee/snacks/washroom.
My favourite “get to know your classmates” introductory question was while a student in a film studies course. We were asked to talk about our random celebrity encounters. I listened raptly to others sharing stories from tequila shots with Sammy Hagar to riding the NY subway with Derek Jeter to, believe it or not, bowling in the white house with Colin Powell. (My own is mini-putting a hole behind Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland in Myrtle Beach back when Julia was shooting Sleeping with the Enemy).
Forming a learning community can be tricky to achieve, but it is a critical feature of an engaging course – particular an online one. A way to build that community is through conversation, and since most people like talking about themselves, an introductory activity is a good way to kick things off. Here’s a smattering of introductory questions/activities that you might want to adapt to your own course from the online courses I’ve taught or helped design:
For a Digital Literacy for Learning online course, I asked learners the following tech-related questions:
- What was the most recent new thing you learned to do tech-wise?
- What’s your favourite thing to do online?
- What’s your favourite thing to do offline?
- What websites do you visit most frequent for academic purposes?
- What websites do you visit most frequently for social or leisure purposes?
- What was the most recent software/digital tool you learned to use?
- What software/digital tool would you like to use?
For a History of the Renaissance Course, learners were asked “What is your favourite work of art/artist, architecture, music or theatre from the Renaissance period and why?”
For a Foundational Finance course, learners shared a recent headline in their hometown paper or online news source they felt could have a financial impact on their local community.
For a History of Women in Canada and the U.S. (1920 – Present) course, learners were asked to consider which famous woman from that time period that they would they like to have lunch with and why.
The point is to not get too serious with the first interaction. If there is a way to tie in the disciplinary topic that is being studied, that’s great, but do it in a low-barrier way that makes it easy for everyone to get involved.