The purpose of Icebreakers in an online class is to get students to know each other so they can get a deeper connection and participate with one another in meaningful discussions that will improve their learning experience.
Icebreakers should be modeled after a social interaction where you first meet someone, in other words, it should relate more to their personal life rather than their academic life. The activity should be easy for students to achieve but takes good planning and execution from the instructor because it sets the tone for future communications in the online environment (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).
Simple and effective icebreaker ideas for online classes:
Video messages – Ask students to record a short-video message for the class (30s to 1min) introducing themselves. Anyone with a smartphone or a computer can create a short video of themselves and then upload to the class environment. Include in the message where they’re from, their hobbies, professional activities, and any interesting facts about themselves. Have all students watch the video messages and identify those students with whom they have something in common and make a comment regarding that commonality.
What’s in a name – Have students use the letters of their first name to write words that best describe them. For example: Julie = Joyous, Unrelenting, Lighthearted, Impatient, Empathetic. Then have them explain in a couple of sentences why they chose each word. Have other students read all the postings and comment on at least 3 that they identify with.
Classmate Survey – Ask each student to share 3-5 interesting facts about themselves. Encourage them to look for areas of common ground. After everyone has shared their interesting facts, make a list of them and send out a survey to the class (using your course management system or a tool like Survey Monkey or Google Survey) to see the level of class interest in the various activities. For example, if a student says she likes to ride motorcycles and another student says she’s an only child, ask everyone in the class if this describes them (Yes, somewhat, maybe). Share the survey results with the class and they will soon discover they have much in common.
Scavenger Hunt – Have students create and introductory posting telling a little about themselves in a discussion board area. Then the instructor creates a “fill in the blank” worksheet based on the information in the postings. Examples of questions are: Find someone who lives in California; Find someone who has a cat. Students would have to read each other’s postings to find the answers and submit their answers to the instructor.
Icebreakers and introduction activities help students get to know each other, fosters team building, social presence, trust, a sense of cooperation among peers, and gets students using classroom technology right away (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).
Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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