5 Easy Icebreakers to Get Students Participating Online

If you’re looking for “get-to-know-you” activities for your upcoming spring quarter courses, consider some online icebreakers, made quickly and for free with these web-based tools.

It’s pretty standard to require online students to post an introductory discussion within the learning management system to get the quarter rolling. But as you prepare for the spring, here’s a guide to some alternatives to improve your students’ early discussion participation. I’ve broken down these tips to specialize them for online or on-campus classes, but there’s nothing saying you couldn’t try these in any delivery format.

Online-only classes: Go beyond a “hello” discussion post

Online students who participate in discussion forums within the learning space are more likely to do well in their courses. Sometimes that’s true just because those introductory posts are required assignments, but getting students engaged with their learning materials—and with their classmates—early on can help them feel more comfortable and improve their likelihood of keeping up with activities. Here are a few ideas to start:

• Have your students create and share an avatar with a comic-strip generator to make that first discussion much more visual.

Record the student intro as a podcast with Audacity. This just requires a mic to do it with a desktop or laptop, but even if a student didn’t have access to one, a smartphone will record his or her voice. Record-and-share just-in-time video would be a great option for public speaking (or maybe even business/marketing) courses.

Virtually travel with a map-based web app such as Google Earth (or a site-specific photo-tour like this one of the Sistine Chapel). Have students pin where they’ve lived, or where they’d like to go, and then share a link in their intro discussion.

On-campus and hybrid classes: Get comfortable with tech

In-person classes can still incorporate online tools to make for interesting activities. Try planning icebreakers that take advantage of mobile tech, allowing students to use their own devices or a tablet cart, if you have access to one. Here are some ideas:

• Use Poll Everywhere to survey students about their career goals or reasons for taking your class. You set up the poll on the website and then students can text in an answer or answer via a browser. Make this more exciting than the verbal go-around-the-room by projecting their answers in real time for the class to see. (This is a good option if you can’t guarantee everyone will have computer access, though not all students may be able to text in, but maybe one or two computers can stand in for those without cell phones.)

• Especially if you’re teaching a course held in a lab, make a QR-code scavenger hunt to learn about the classroom materials. If you have blog posts or some links to info on how to use some equipment, for example, make a QR code with a tool such as the Google URL shortener, print off the code, tape it to the equipment and then have students use a reader app to access the info.

What’s your approach to a course’s first day? Share your thoughts in the comments or let us know @MCCIDS.


Alex is online course support technician at IDS, working to support all online, hybrid and LMS-enhanced instructors and students in using Blackboard and several media servers. She's also the administrator for the MCC Blogs network. You can reach her at acgarrison@mccneb.edu.

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Posted in Blog, Free & Cool, IDS Tech Academy, Online Pedagogy

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