This is a guest post by educators and VoiceThreaders, Monika Myers, and Mike Ulrich.
Like many academics, we are both introverts who are quite happy never meeting new people. But, the nature of teaching requires us to occasionally step outside our isolating offices to meet new students and help foster a community within our classes. Establishing a welcoming and inclusive classroom culture on day 1 of a semester pays significant future dividends.
Many online instructors have experience with an introduction discussion board. Best practice in online teaching involves having students introduce themselves. However, the introduction discussion board can be boring and it often fails to help students make meaningful connections. VoiceThread is an excellent tool to provide a variety of different asynchronous ice-breakers. This gives students the chance to introduce themselves in a relaxed, engaged, non-threatening way.
The basic strategy is as follows. The faculty member uses VoiceThread to display a static image. The students record a short video while drawing on that static image. After exploring several possibilities, here are some of our favorite VoiceThread icebreakers.
Have students introduce themselves while playing:
- “Let’s have Lunch.”
Show a menu of a local restaurant. Ask students to record a short VoiceThread introduction while “ordering” their favorite meal (circling items they want to eat).
- “Pick a birthday present”
Display a busy collage of a lot of random images (food, travel locations, cars, TV characters, houses, the college dorms, a tree, etc.). Students can choose the images that they might want for a birthday present. This allows for a lot of interpretation! A student might circle an image of a TV because they want to watch TV, they want to buy a TV, they want to escape TV, they want to become a TV actor, they want to do something they saw on TV, etc.
- “Life story”
Use a collage of random images similar to #2. Students can use the images to tell a short story that describes a meaningful event from their life.
- “What Book Would You Read.”
Put up a busy collage of several books. Have students introduce themselves by circling a book they might enjoy.
- “Let’s Go Shopping.”
Bring up a page showing several funny mugs. Students circle the mug they want to buy.
- “Favorite place on campus”
Display a map of campus. Students can discuss their favorite places on campus.
- “Where’s Waldo?”
Show a page from an old Where’s Waldo book. Ask the student to circle the character the best describes them.
Display a boggle board (a 4 X 4 board of random letters) and ask students to find words. They can use the pencil feature to draw the words they locate.
Show a maze with multiple solutions. Students can introduce themselves while trying to find a route through the maze.
- “What Do You See in the Clouds”
Look at a picture of a sky with multiple clouds. Ask students to introduce themselves while circling or point to the shapes that they notice in the clouds.
- “Would you rather?”
Select four or five options and write them on a screen. Have students circle which thing they would rather do. For example, you could list: help someone move or drink milk that expired a week ago.
We’ve found that this strategy works best if students are introducing themselves to small groups (less than 10 people) rather than the whole class. After students post their own video, they can reply to other students as well. To see this strategy in action, feel free to look at a sample here:
Some students may be uncomfortable with recording a VoiceThread introduction. We find that recording our own introductory video where we humorously mention our introversion helps these reclusive students feel more comfortable. Our introduction videos also help students see us as real people instead of an ominous voice from behind a microphone or scripted instructor in future asynchronous lectures.
- Favorite animals in a big animals picture?
- Drawing of world landmark buildings?
- Foods they like?
Fun exercise …
You could do other things with country/geography:
- Where would you most like to visit?
- Where have you visited as coolest site?
Where are your ancestors from?**
- Which country has best food?
- Put up food groups and pick favorite
- Put up restaurants you have gone to (or would go to)
- Put up any type of food to see what they might select … types of candy bars, meat, drinks, etc.
- Put up books they would like to read and pick one
- Which is their favorite movie or tv show or channel (fox vs. cnn)
- What movie character are they most like?
- What is their hobby … put some and pick
A would you rather game?
- Would you rather be a police officer or a fireman?
- Would you rather be homeless or called bad names?
- Would you rather be a bird or a fish?
- Would you rather take a vacation to the snowy mountains or to the beach?
Pictures of houses (victorian style, adobe style, mansion, apartment in a high rise, cabin, beach hut) which house would you most like to live in?
Picture of map of seats on an airplane - which seat would you pick?
Having a positive first day of a class has multiple benefits. For students, feeling relaxed and comfortable in an environment is conducive to learning. It’s hard to learn if you feel anxious and unwelcome! For non-traditional students especially, feeling like they can be authentic in the classroom helps with retention. In general, students who feel connected to other students and the instructor end up with better outcomes in the course. Finally, getting early wins in a class helps students gain confidence.
It is challenging to think of asynchronous ways to create this kind of welcoming environment. Most instructors use an asynchronous introduction discussion board. While this does have some benefits, students often do not feel connected to other students or their instructor through this medium alone.
About the authors:
Monika Myers is an Assistant Professor at Arkansas State University. She has taught Sociology online since 2015. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Ulrich is an Assistant Professor at Utah State University where he teaches management and analytics.