Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

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.

Another fun and cross-disciplinary activity involves students introducing themselves with a Voki avatar or a free avatar creator.

You can find some more fun and easy digital icebreakers over at Shelly Terrell’s post from Tech and Learning.

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.

One thought on “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.

  1. Oh oh I have a random celebrity encounter!
    In the late 90s or so I had a temp gig as a “shipper/receiver” at a TV festival. Before and after the festival you’re running around like crazy. But there are some lulls during. One such lull had me sitting alone on a loading dock next to one of those raffle ticket spinner cages. It was completely empty.
    After pondering the cage for a spell I guess I wanted to interact with it a bit, so I picked it up, put it on my lap and tried giving it a few spins. Maybe I did this for quite a while. No one can be sure.
    Now, as a Canadian of a certain age, you will probably recognize the name Terry David Mulligan? He hosted a whole whack of shows on Much Music and that other Much Music they made for us as we got older (Much More Music???).
    Well he must have been done his TV festival duties for the day because he wandered in to the loading dock, alone. Maybe looking for a quiet escape.
    He paused when he saw me sitting by myself, quietly spinning an empty raffle ticket spinner on my lap.
    We made eye contact. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I said “pop your ticket in here. You got a good chance of winning.”
    He left without saying a word. Maybe there was a small, bewildered shake of the head.
    Sorry Terry.

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