As guests arrived at a lunch party I attended last Easter, our host immediately directed them to a craft table laden with everything you needed to let your inner child go wild. The activity at this table was to make something that could be worn on your head (the loose version of an Easter bonnet/hat). This activity was a fabulous icebreaker that immediately engaged the guests and provided an opportunity for those who did not know each other to introduce themselves and, most importantly, was hilariously funny. Guests sought creative design and engineering advice from each other while they bedazzled spectacles, zhuzhed up earrings, created rabbit ear tiaras, Easter hats and pinned on non-compliant bunny tails! What a great way to become familiar with each other and get the party started!

I share this story as Session 1 is only weeks away and this is a time where Unit Convenors, Lecturers and Tutors are starting to think about ways they can build the student community to facilitate collaboration for learning activities. People collaborate better if they socialise to become familiar with each other (and as you know the word ‘familiar’ is a derivative of the latin word ‘familia’, meaning family, and families build communities). Gilly Salmon suggests community building requires socialisation, and the Unit Convenor, Lecturer and Tutor must “give very explicit attention to enabling and promoting all aspects of online socialisation”. Sarah Baker , who completed a study on an innovative icebreaker for first year undergraduate students, suggests “social integration is critical to first-year students’ adjustment to university, with research finding that the development of social networks in the first weeks of university life can underpin successful academic transition”.

Icebreakers are a great way to facilitate socialisation in both the face to face and online environment. However, for an icebreaker to be effective it needs to be appropriate, simple, fun engaging and most importantly be ‘safe’ and comfortable for all.

It can be difficult to introduce an Icebreaker in a lecture, due to the size of a cohort, time constraints and the fact that it is recorded, but with such learning tools as Echo360 Active Learning Platform, we now have an opportunity to use interactive activities to facilitate socialisation. For more information about how to use the interactive activities, please view the Staff Portal guides on Live, interactive and recorded lectures or attend an upcoming workshop. There are a number of online learning tools such as VoiceThread, Echo360 Active Learning Platform  In addition, you could try Sarah Baker’s fabulous initiative, ‘Classroom Karaoke’.

For Tutorials, there are many articles and tips written on icebreakers, which you can research and adapt for your cohort, but you could also use iLearn activities to get the ‘party started’. Think about using VoiceThread, an OU Blog, Wiki or universal tools like Google Docs or Slides for either the entire student cohort or the external student cohort to get to know each other. Using these online tools afford students the ability to upload images or link to videos, music and articles, post comments and feedback etc and all you have to do is provide the students with a question/s or an activity to start the socialisation process. The question/s or activities could be about the unit or life in general but remember to refrain from becoming too personal.

For help and support in using iLearn activities for icebreakers, please contact your Faculty Learning and Teaching team.

Beth Saunders, Senior Learning Designer, FoA.

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Posted by Beth Saunders

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