Using Icebreakers to Build Community in Remote Classes

Want to know more about cultivating authentic “presence” and building community in your online interactions? Check out the workshop schedule for details.

I hate ice breakers. Always have, and I have to assume I always will. Now that I’ve gotten that confession out of the way, I have to shamefacedly admit that ice breakers are absolutely crucial to building community between you and your students, as well as among your students, in an online environment.

Students perceive risk involved in answering questions in class or participating actively in group discussions (whether in person, through web conferencing software, or on discussion boards). The dread of being publicly wrong can be overwhelming. To combat this dread, you can use low-stakes ways to help students develop comfort being vulnerable in front of each other.

That’s where the ice breakers come in. In synchronous sessions, you can have students participate in whole-group ice-breakers or use breakout rooms to have them pair-share. Depending on your web conferencing system, you can give students the option of sharing out their ice breaker in the Chat, or even submit it directly to you through private Chat to be shared with the larger group anonymously.

In asynchronous sessions, you can require a specific ice breaker or give students a choice between assignments. As with other discussion topics, you can require students to respond to another student’s post in order to earn full credit. Asynchronous ice breakers give you a lot of scope for offering multimedia options. For instance, I sometimes have my students make a User Guide that tells me how to work with them effectively. In the past, most students have chosen to submit those as slides or text, but there’s been a boom in easy-to-use multimedia apps like Seesaw and FlipGrid that would make a visual or video version attractive to many students.

One word of advice: It’s important for you to participate in any ice breaker activities you assign. Students need to see that you can be vulnerable with them (to an appropriate degree) in order to feel that they can be vulnerable with you.

For much more on ice breakers, including some sample versions, check out the Cultivating Authentic Presence workshop and/or the Effective Asynchronous Assignments workshop.

Published by Jaime Lynn Longo

I am a composition scholar, an educational developer, a practitioner of transformative education both in and out of the classroom, and an accidental instructional design evangelist.

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