One aspect of learning online is that the students will feel distant and isolated from not only you (the Institution and staff facilitator) but also from each other.
So, what can you do to make them feel included and valued? Firstly, use the induction period to get them used to not only working and talking in the online environment, but also engaging online (collaboration, tests, discussions, etc).
My personal favourite is to get the students doing something that uses a piece of technology they’re not familiar with, but in a way that they don’t realise their using or doing something new. A properly organised activity should get the students thinking about the task, not the tool!
So, Induction & Icebreaker activities. What can you do (and they aren’t limited to using in Induction; they can be used at any time)?
1) Picture Perfect
Objective: Create a visual connection with fellow students, and also to practice skills in graphic communication.
Delivery: Blog (best), Wiki, or Discussion Board.
Process: Locate a favourite photograph and post to the delivery method. If the photo is not yet in digital format, arrange to have it scanned and made available in JPG file format. In the post, student ought to say a little about the photo and why it is their favourite. Then go and view the photos and messages of their colleagues.
Additional Information: This does not have to be a photo of family, but of a subject that has meaning to them (pet, car, city, landscape, friends, etc).
2) Lonely Hearts
Objective: The objective of this exercise is to analyse how we perceive people from the information they offer online, using ‘lonely hearts’ adverts.
Delivery: Wiki, Blog, or Discussion Board (best).
Process: Read the pre-prepared lonely heart adverts and make comments on the individual behind each advert in the Discussion Board. Engage fellow students in conversation based on their entries and comments.
3) Shopping Trip
Objective: To encourage the students to get to know who they are studying with. What is their colleagues ‘priority’ when it comes to spending £50,000 on anything they want, guilt free.
Delivery: Blog or Discussion Board.
Process: The students will post information about what they will spend their £50,000 on. Depending on the age and background of the students as to whether you get a lot of property/mortgage replies or cars and holidays. If applicable, ask for links and photos of examples to demonstrate what they are looking to ‘buy’.
Objective: Students learn, often by trial and error and much laughter, two interesting facts about a colleague, and one untruth.
Delivery: Discussion Board.
Process: Student list three ‘interesting’ things about themselves. Two must be lies and one must be true. Other students must vote to determine which is a lie.
5) Memory Lane
Objective: Since online students are diverse in age as well as background and location, it is good to close any generation gap that might exist and otherwise be a disadvantage when working together online.
Delivery: Blog (best) or Discussion Board.
Process: Ask the students to list three major world events that happened the year in which they were born, then have the other members guess the year and post a short response on whether they remembered the events or had never heard of them.
Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’m happy to hear your activities, so please post below.
Try to keep all your activities using tools already available to the students in the VLE or PLN you use, don’t ask them to go off and register for something new; they may be scared enough already using the VLE that is new to them, anything else may be one step too far!
Ideally the kind of Induction Activities you use should be a mixture of reflective and collaborative styles in order to get the students comfortable with each other, you (the facilitator) and in working online in what many will find a new and difficult environment.
Image source: Storm Crowd by JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)