Week 1 Tips for Building Community

For a moment, think back to a few of your favorite college classes.  When those classes were over, you likely felt a sense of sadness or loss on the last day.  Research shows that online students who feel connected to a group note an increase in satisfaction, depth of learning, and interaction with peers (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997; Tu, 2000; Rovai & Barnum, 2003; Stein & Wanstreet, 2003; Picciano, 2002; Richardson & Swan, 2003).  The cultivation of a sense of community is an element that improves the student experience in face-to-face classes and developing community in an online class has been shown to add similar dimensions for students.

Building community is important to the first week of a student’s experience when anxieties are high. Implementing an ice breaker activity that connects students with each other a great way to kick off the semester.

Ice Breaker Ideas

Use VoiceThread to create an online ice breaker (which works great for face-to-face and blended classes too!).  VoiceThread invites students to comment in video or voice, which offers a more humanized experience.

  • Click here to view a sample of a VoiceThread ice breaker from Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s online History of Photography class. Students select one photograph from a historical sample and share how, in their opinion, the image changed the world.
  • This VoiceThread ice breaker was created by Kathy Bohley, Professor of Marketing and International Business at the University of Indianapolis.  Students view a video of comprised of music and photographs. On the next slide, they guess “Where in the World” is Dr. Bohley?

Digital Bulletin Boards.  Get creative and use ThingLink or Padlet to create a collaborative bullet board that students can post to from a laptop or mobile device.

  • ThingLink provides the option to upload an image that your students can place tags on that link to text, images, and video.  In this example, users shared tags that relate to Chemical Engineering.
  • Padlet provides a blank sheet for students to post to. Just remember to be clear about the topic of the bulletin board to keep the activity focused.  Want to try it out? Click here!

Mobile Scavenger Hunt. Break students into groups of 3-4. Ensure at least one student in each group has a mobile phone. Give students 30 minutes to explore campus and take photos of items you have listed.  For example, a Botany class may be required to take photographs of examples of flora that are native to the Camarillo area. Provide a web link for students to reference images as they sleuth out their surroundings!

The M&M Ice Breaker.  Do you want a no-tech ice breaker? Have each student select one M&M from a bag.  Explain that each color represents a different topic. Students will then be asked to introduce themselves to the class and share something about themselves that fulfills the category associated with their color.  For example, “green” may mean “share your favorite photograph on your phone currently on your phone and share why it’s your favorite.”  “Yellow” may prompt students to share their idea of what constitutes a fabulous class.   “Red” may ask students to share “their greatest concern about this class.”  If you don’t have time to do this as a class-wide ice-breaker, divide students into groups of 4-5. (From http://www.lcc.edu/cte/resources/teachingettes/icebreakers.aspx)


Your Role

An instructor’s role in an ice-breaker is to encourage and support student-student interactions. There is no “right” outcome of an ice breaker. The more students interact with each other, the more opportunities they will have to make meaningful peer relationships that will endure throughout the semester.  And…don’t forget the debrief so you and your students can reflect on the activity and make improvements for next time.

Click here for more great ice-breaker ideas from Lansing Community College!

Have a great idea for an ice breaker? Leave us a comment below and share it!

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