Online Ice-breakers

I’m designing a course that will be fully online, with most components in an a-synchronous Course Management Software. But, the intro and a few activities will be in an online synchronous format. I’m looking for fresh ideas for ice-breakers for this environment. Please share any that you’ve used and would recommend to others.:-)Thanks!

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  • Hi Tiffany -
    I have just attended Don's webcast on Social Networking last week. They used an online voting / polling tool to get participants to contribute to the initial discussion. The results can be used for research as well.
    In past online seminars I have done we got stakeholders to identify what location they were from geographically.
    Have a look at some Flash Apps we have in one Adobe Connect room at:
    Login in as a guest
    or see the attached screen grab.
    I'm happy to discuss this pedagogic issue in more detail as I think the issue of Induction is very important and often overlooked.
    Dr. Anthony 'Skip' Basiel


  • Hi Tiffany,

    you have already had some fab answers so mine will probably be redundant. I would definitely echo Mark's comments about taking a look at the Salmon 5 step model and indroducing the participants to the online environnment in a fairly gentle and non-threatening way. I run online discussions and am currently designing an in-house course for academic staff to gain a grounding in online tutoring and the ice breaker I have used is for people to introduce themselves and say what they hope to gain from the course and then to give some informal information such as what they can see out of their window. It sounds trite but it helps participants to instil their personality into the online environment as this is really important if the course will be fully online. Have you seen any of the work Garrison has done around a community of inquiry? He states that 3 elements are important to set up an effective online learning community, teaching, social and cognitive. Allowing participants to talk about themselves in some way helps to build the social aspect. (Sorry if I am teaching you to suck eggs here).

    Good luck and best wishes,

    Joan : )
  • I think Phil has several great suggestions.

    And going back to his earlier response - if you get the people interacting asynchronously, they will look forward to the synchronous event. I know I certainly look forward to conferences where I am going to get the chance to interact with people I cross paths with in the blogosphere!

    Of course, I look forward to them even more if they're face to face like LT, but where this is impossible, it makes a nice alternative.

    On one conference I attended a bunch of people set up a virtual chat room where they could get together over coffee in their various countries around the world.

    The map marking idea is a particularly good one, but you can also do that asynchronously before the synchronous event with a tool called Attendr, which also allows people to indicate which other attendees they already know and which they'd like to meet.
    • One of the great things about the synchronous session is that it is a bridge between the very familiar (someone talks, someone listens, someone responds), and the unfamiliar - (someone posts a comment, waits for the rest of their cohort of learners to view it and then synthesises a whole raft of responses). I had not come across Attendr so thanks for that tip Karyn. I can foresee using the two techniques in sequence - first in the slightly more comforting and less isolated social environment of the virtual classroom/conference room I'll respond to a warm human voice in the company of others doing the same. Then later, having established some rapport with my group, and having a deliberate purpose and a commitment to record some information, (in this instance via Attendr) I'll make my contribution in an asynchronous way but feeling reassured that someone is "out there" listening and expecting a response from me.
  • Hi Tiffany,

    Much depends on the particular group you're working with and what they might respond to. Personally I tend not to use the typical icebreaker like "What's your favourite film?". That's mainly down to me not liking that sort of thing.

    In online, asynchronous situations you've got two factors to consider at the start of a course: access and motivation. (See Gilly Salmon's 5 stage model:

    You need to ensure that people are confident in using the technology and that they are motivated to do so. Unless both of those are sorted at the beginning you will lose people.

    So, at the beginning, I tend to start with very simple welcome messages that put people at ease within the environment. It's very "tutor-centred", and focussed on picking up issues around the technology and expectations.

    Then you can move onto the Online Socialisation stage - where you get participants used to the environment, perhaps by responding to a message with a "hello, I'm here". You don't want to introduce too much too soon. Gradually highlight bits of functionality as time goes on. You might, though, start to introduce concepts such as Netiquette and the ground rules for communicating in the forum.

    Only then, when people are comfortable with a predominantly text-based communication system can you start doing the "ice-breaker" tasks where people share information about themselves. I tend to focus the discussion on information that is relevant to the course itself (eg. what's the best website to use for ...), but I also encourage participants to post personal information in their personal profiles (assuming your system has that functionality) - having first modelled it with my own profile.

    I know that's not answered your question with any specifics. What's your course about, and who's it aimed at?

    All the best,

    • In a live session I'd do something that made student interaction seem simple and also had a wow effect for those unfamiliar with the environment. Using mark-up tools to locate yourself on a map is usually well-received. You can also play noughts and crosses. In a system with a dynamic whiteboard (such as in Centra) you can rearrange markup items and so that gives you great scope for getting people to cluster into interest groups, form psychometric groups etc. You can also use polls or surveys to ask "How do you feel" type questions or "Which is most like you?" questions and so identify "Done this befores", "First Timers, "Veterans". Another example might be graphically to present a set of stereotyped interests - sporting, musical, active, passive, social, individual etc. and have people show their name or drag their name to the one that matches their personality. I've even played (with adults) kid's party game "corners" - you may know - where you eliminate people in turn until the last standing is the winner. If you want more detail contact me.
    • Thanks Phil! These are great ideas! I appreciate you sharing. I enjoyed chatting with you at the conference too. :-)
    • Brilliant ideas Phil - for more practical than anything I'd thought of!
  • I'd recommend linking the two so that you begin some meaningful activity in your asynch learning environment and have people looking forward to taking it to some resolution in the live virtual classroom. You don't say whether or not your audience will be used to working online. This makes a difference. I'll pause there until I know the answer, Tiffany.
    • Thanks for your feedback Phil and good question.

      Some of our users are very familiar with our Course Management Software, while others have never used it before. We are hoping to have a Computer-Based Module on how to use the CMS available for the students to take as a pre-requisite. But, I’m sure there will still be a few students who are uneasy with the CMS. Thus, the need to start off the course with a synchronous module where the instructor can talk with the students live from their computers. This will kick off the course, and help ease the fear of taking the course online. The audience is instructors and instructional designers that work for our organization. The course is on Designing Effective Training Assessments.

      Thanks again!
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