Remote teaching

Online community building: Icebreakers

A key part of any online learning community is the building of that community.  Students must be made to feel welcome in the digital environment.  Getting to know both their peers and instructors sets students up for successful interactions later in the course.  There are many strategies that can be used, but frequently, relying on fun, light-hearted icebreaker questions can encourage greater authenticity. 

Faculty frequently share that they are apprehensive about online discussions.  This may be due to a poor experience with online discussions, or, even, due to challenges experienced in the face-to-face classroom.  However, there are benefits to online discussions. The online environment allows fewer time limitations; conversations are less likely to be dominated by “over-talkers” and too many students trying to chime in.  Additionally, online discussions can provide opportunities for students to use technology (like videos and photos and memes) to interact. 

As Darby and Lang relate in Small Teaching Online (2019), a well structured discussion can be even more successful than face-to-face discussions if instructors follow a few guidelines: 

  • make sure discussion topics are “discussable”
  • require that students submit an initial post and then reply to a minimum number of their peers’ posts
  • consider using the Canvas feature that requires students to post an initial submission before they can read the posts of others
  • consider setting multiple deadlines for a discussion: an earlier deadline for initial posts, and then a deadline for replies
  • consider small groups, which can be easily set-up in Canvas

Often, icebreaker questions work well in Discussion Boards. If they are posted in either an Orientation Module or the first module, icebreaker questions can help form a sense of community early within a course. 

Check out this list of icebreakers: