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It's the first day of your online course. You meet with your students over videoconferencing so they can connect in a way they couldn't if they were just messaging each other on a discussion forum. Your first order of business is to take attendance, review the syllabus and preview the class so that your students will know what to expect, right?
Wrong. Engaging students in learning is a social process. If you want your students to feel like a community, it is important for them to connect with you and their fellow class members in the first session. This is especially important when students will need to collaborate throughout the course.
Breaking the ice
To feel like a team, students need to get to know each other. Start by having them all share something about themselves. Yes, this can be awkward at first. That's why teachers use icebreakers in face-to-face classrooms. Unfortunately, these often don't translate well to online interaction.
I teach an online course to undergraduate and graduate students called Using Digital and Social Media inEducation, which requires collaboration. I was searching for an easy-to-use interactive icebreaker when I happened upon the age-old party game Two Truths and a Lie.
In Two Truths and a Lie,players make three statements about themselves. Two of the statements are true and one is a lie. It's a fun activity that encourages people to share about themselves at a comfortable level of disclosure. It's safe because they get to decide if they want to share deeply personal things about their lives or just superficial items, such as the types of food they like to eat.
But the game in its traditional form needed slight modifications to work well in my online class. I felt that if the students were to just speak their statements over videoconferencing, the interaction component could get lost in the chaos. The trick, I concluded, was to create an interactive online tool. It needed to provide a simple method for students to visually share their ideas and then evaluate their responses.
The interactive tool I came up with was a Google Spreadsheet where students could type their statements simultaneously and then post judgments about each of their colleagues' disclosures. It worked beautifully and got the class off to a rousing start.
Create your own game
Here's how to set up the spreadsheet:
- Begin by creating a Google Spreadsheet like the one above. You can create your own or make a copy of my spreadsheet.
- Set the " "Share" " settings so that " "Anyone with the link" " " "Can edit" " the file. This will allow your students to add their truths and lies as well as their votes for their classmates' statements in the appropriate columns without having to take time to sign in.
- Add your name in the 0 row and then add your students' names in each subsequent row.
- Add your own two truths and a lie in your row. This is a great way to share something about yourself while demonstrating the process.
And here's how to play the game:
- Share the link to your spreadsheet with your students. In a videoconferencing situation, you can just paste it into the chat window for your students to access. If any students have problems accessing the table using an iPad, they can download and use the Google Sheets app from the Apple App Store.
- Point out their names and the numbers next to their names. Note that the numbered columns in the table align with the numbers next to their names.
- Have them read each of your statements and cast their votes about whether they think they are truths or lies.
- Once they have cast their votes, you can begin the game by sharing your own truths and lies.
- As you read each statement aloud, tell them the story that inspired the statement. If it was a lie but partly true, tell them the real story.
- As you reveal each fact, add a T or L in the Answer column to identify if it is a truth or lie. I set up the Answer column in my spreadsheet to automatically turn letters in this column red to highlight the final answers. If you made your own spreadsheet, you can do this by highlighting the cells or column and then changing the text color in the spreadsheet toolbar.
- Now it's time for your students to share about themselves. Each of the students will add their two truths and a lie about themselves. Give them about five minutes for this.
- Once they have added their statements, they can cast their votes about their classmates' " "facts." "
- The best part is when your students explain their statements. Some students get really into this because they are sharing information that is important in their lives. If you have a large group, you might want to break it up so that half of your students share now and the others do it toward the end of your session.
I found this icebreaker to be a great way to kick off my online class and build community. What's more, it introduced my students to working collaboratively in a single Google document, a skill they would be using throughout the course. While it wasn't a full collaborative writing experience where they edit each other's work, they were writing, reading and reacting simultaneously. And, in addition to being a fun way to launch the class, this activity builds a good foundation to support Communication and Collaboration, one of the ISTE Standards for Students, which asks learners to " "interact, collaborate and publish with peers." "
Thank you to Dr. Susan Hill at the University of Northern Iowa for inspiring me to use this game to begin my class.
Leigh Zeitz — akaDr. Z — is an associate professor of instructional technology at the University of Northern Iowa. His vision of education involves challenging and empowering learners by providing a learning environment that is teacher led and student driven. Visit him at drzreflects.com and follow him on Twitter @zeitz.