B. As an instructor, how do you create the sense of online class community at the beginning of the semester?

Interaction in an online classroom does not happen naturally but must be learned and developed. Since, in all fully asynchronous online courses, posting becomes the functional equivalent of attendance, posting on various class and group Discussion Boards is the heart and soul, the very life-blood of an online course. At the beginning of the semester, particularly in the first two weeks, you will need to create an engaging and encouraging environment for students, especially since some of them may be taking an online course for the first time. What follows are some useful techniques to get students to interact with you and their peers. All of these activities can be managed through class Discussion Boards.

1. Begin the class with a relatively extensive introductory, ice-breaker survey.

Ask students a wide variety of questions, such as ones about their future plans, favorite books, reading preferences, families, and pets. Have them share this in their small groups and then with the whole class. [Manning (see references) uses this survey to assign small discussion groups and respond to students’ self-introductions.]

2. Ask students to share any prior experiences in online instruction.

Have students discuss whether their prior online experiences were suddessful or not, and how they differed from face-to-face classes. Encourage them also to talk about their hopes and expectations for your class, as well as fears, anxieties, and apprehensions.

3. Ask students to discuss the attributes of an online course community.

What is an online community? How is it achieved? What are its benefits? Ask students to come up with their suggestions for building a supportive online community for themselves.

4. Set up a “Class Lounge”.

Create an informal conversational space or “CyberCafe” as a Discussion Board allowing students to connect on a social level. It can be a very useful place for students to get to know each other, as well as to ask questions or make observations about the course. Note that it provides an alternative to emailing you, or even a private space for which the instructors may not participate in unless invited.

5. Two Lies and a Truth.

Ask students to list three interesting things about themselves (For example: “I own two iguanas,” “I once shook hands with Tom Cruise,” and “I love to waterski.”). Two must be lies and one must be true. Other students must vote to determine which interesting thing is a lie. The student with the most incorrect votes wins.

6. Childhood Dream.

Ask students to share their childhood dream, what they wanted to be or do when they grew up, and then ask them to reflect on how their current coursework relates to their current aspirations.

7. Vacation Needs.

Ask students to respond either of these questions:

(A) “Where would you like to go on a vacation right now if you could?”

(B) What is the farthest distance you have traveled for a vacation or a business-vacation?”

With this sharing in the on-line class, others may have been to some of the same places or would like to find out more from those that have gone.

8. Resumé Trading.

Ask students to upload their resumés to share with the whole class. Then ask students to read each other’s resumés and come up with 5 words to describe each student in a threaded discussion.

9. Interviewing.

Ask students to pair up and interview each other and then report on what they found out.

10. Miscomm-puter-unication.

Ask the class to share their most embarrassing mishaps using a computer. Share with students your own experience, for example, replying to the wrong person in an email, or losing a draft of an essay. This will loosen them up and cause a few to chuckle before teacher and students embark on a whole new way of thinking using technology instead of paper and pen.

11. Meeting Someone.

Storytelling is a wonderful way to get people to tell others about themselves. Ask students to share their favorite musician, what draws them to this kind of music or the musician’s personality, and then conjure a fantasy story about meeting them. You may also ask: “Who is your favorite musician? Why do you like them and what would you say to them if you could meet them today?”

12. Memory Lane.

Many online students are quite diverse in age, ethnicity, cultural background, and prior experience. Ask students to list three major world events that happened the year they were born. Then have other members guess the year and post a short response about whether they remembered the events or had never heard of them. This activity also encourages students to do some online research.

14. Good things come in Threes.

Ask students to do the following:
a) List your three favorite web sites.
b) List your three favorite activities.
c) List your three favorite people.

Then ask students to work in pairs to tell each other why they come up with such lists. Finally, each student will write a short, 250-word essay about his/her peer’s favorites on the discussion board.

15. One Word.

Each student thinks of just one word that they think best describes them or their life. They post their word as the subject of the discussion board posting and then explain why they chose that word in the body of the posting. After all have posted, students review and find someone whose word resonates with them. They reply and try to find at least two additional words that the two of them have in common.

16. Classmate Quiz.

During the first week of class, ask students to post introductions. Then direct students to read all class introductions in preparation for a quiz, worth bonus points, by email or by creating a matching or multiple-choice quiz in the Blackboard. Ask questions like, “Who lives in Boston?” or “Who has the pet monkey?” Give them three days to respond. According to the literature, this activity builds a learning community in the class.

17. Pass it on.

Each student will develop a question to pass on to the next student (e.g. “Where was the tallest tree you have ever climbed?”). The student then emails the question to another student. The second answers the question and then emails the response, along with his or her original question, on to the next person. The process is repeated until everyone has had a chance to answer. Then the responses are returned to the originator of the question.

18. Lost in Space.

Sometimes, we learn more about people through their priorities than their standard introductions. Here are the directions for this assignment: Direct students to imagine they have been living on the space station for one year. Suddenly the computers malfunction, and they have fifteen minutes to evacuate to a space shuttle before all life support systems fail. They will be allowed to take five items with[them. Students should then, as quickly as they can, type their name followed by the five items in a discussion board posting. This is not a time for reflection, just a quick response.The class will then review the lists and inquire of various students as to why they chose what they did.

19. Eight Nouns Activity.

Have students introduce themselves using eight nouns and explain why they chose each noun.

20. I am . . .

By way of introducing themselves, have students make a list of 10-20 ways of completing the sentence, “I am . . . .”

21. Treasure Hunts.

Have everyone list interests, where born, hobbies, favorite places to visit, job, major, etc., and then have them find one thing in common and one thing different about each member of the class.

22. Brainteasers.

Post a crossword puzzle, scrambled saying, competition, riddle, dilemma, or “IQ test” and see who can solve it.

23. Ask students to name their groups.

After you assign students or ask them to form into small groups, encourage groups to name themselves and explain why they pick up such a name as one of the first ice breaking assignments.


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