On Boarding Students: Concrete Example of an Ice-Breaking Assignment

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    Tom Boogaart
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    • Department: History
    • Faculty: Arts

    We know from experience that the first lecture is important for getting a class off on the right foot. In normal times, the opening lecture provided students an introduction to the course themes and the personality of their professor. How do you successfully launch a class in an online environment?

    A good starting point is to consider this question from the student’s perspective. Polls suggest they are apprehensive about online learning and skeptical that the quality measures up. Some students dislike technology and most would prefer the intimacy of the classroom experience. How do you bring this lot on board and win them over? One technique is to use an ice-breaking activity, a simple introductory task that helps students to get acclimated to your Brightspace shell, oriented to the course themes and comfortable with their professor and classmates.

    Attached below I have included a TLSS check list on teacher ‘presence’ and a sample of my HIS 1111 Ice-Breaking activity. I designed this activity with a sneaky objective of teaching students to master the cumbersome interface of the BS discussion forums, as I rely upon them as the principal medium for student collaboration. For online discussion to work it is also essential that students update their profile picture. Otherwise you cannot keep track of the arguments and you feel you are in a room of grey zombies. Assigning a few bonus points will not likely change their grade, but is a guarantee that most will complete the task.

    When it comes to on-boarding there is no one size fits all. Professors have to develop the materials that fit their needs and teaching persona. If you have never taught online before, however, you may not have considered the importance of setting the tone or the importance of overcoming anonymity in virtual classrooms. Providing a concrete example of something that worked could provide inspiration. The attached TLSS checklist provides other suggestions for on boarding students like posting your biography(with a picture), making a video explaining the learning outcomes or simply crafting a warm welcome message using the announcement function on Brightspace.

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