By fostering community among your students, you can increase their sense of belonging and motivation to learn. One of the most common ways to welcome students to an online course is inviting students to introduce themselves to one another.
Through these self-introductions, students can learn of and connect with peers with myriad backgrounds, interests, or goals in the class. By building connections with peers early, students can become more willing to learn from one another and, by asking students to share about themselves, you communicate that they matter and belong (University of Arts London, 2020).
What could self-introductions include?
As you plan for self-introduction opportunities for your students, you may wonder: What could I ask students to share with one another? Your prompts for self-introductions could include the following:
- Name or nicknames
- Career aspirations
- Interests or hobbies
- Favorite books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, or video games
- Personal learning goals for the class
Students could receive structured prompts to help them introduce themselves to one another. These include “fill in the blanks” or use sentence frames (“My goals for this class include __________”).
Please note it is best practice to not require students to share anything they would prefer not to, such as their location or their age. You may like to give students agency and choice in terms of what they include in their introductions.
To promote further engagement with introductions, you may like to ask students to post their introductions as Panopto videos rather than as text posts to a Canvas discussion board. Video introductions let students see each other and increase the meaningfulness of this activity.
Ice-breaker questions and activities
As students move through their classes, self-introductions may come to feel like a familiar and trite activity. To infuse more life and novelty into these, you may ask more novel and frankly fun questions. Examples of such questions include the following:
- What are three adjectives that would best describe you?
- If you received a million dollars but could only use it for a good cause, what would you do?
- Who is the fictional character with whom you most identify, and why?
- If you could live at any point in history, which one would you choose, and why?
- Which place would you most like to visit, and why?
If you can dedicate more time to an ice-breaker activity than a quick question, consider these engaging activities to give students more opportunity to get to know each other.
- Introducing each other: You could ask students to introduce themselves in groups (using Zoom breakout rooms or Canvas groups). When the whole class reunites, students are then asked to introduce not themselves but rather each other.
- Mapping our stories: You could ask students to mark their hometowns, current locations, or most memorable or favorite places on a Google Map (from Liz du Plessis at the University of Missouri).
- Doing “About Me” slideshows treasure hunt: Students create “about me” slideshows to introduce themselves to their classmates, and then they must search through these slideshows to complete a “treasure hunt” (from Jeff Goodman at Appalachian State University).
There is a wide array of ice-breaker activities that you can use to spark student interest and engagement. Please use the resources below to learn more strategies:
- Examples of online ice-breaking activities (University of North Texas)
- Online icebreaker ideas (University of Washington Bothell)
- 35 icebreakers perfect for virtual or hybrid meetings (Slido)
- Self-affirming icebreakers (Michelle Pacansky-Brock)
Private introductions to instructor
In addition to giving students the opportunity to introduce themselves to one another, you may like to offer students a private survey, where they can share more about themselves and any needs or concerns they may have. “A Getting to Know You Survey in week one is an important part of fostering trust and laying the foundation for the instructor-student relationship you will leverage to challenge students and hold them all to the same high expectations” (Pacansky-Brock, n.d.). Pacansky-Brock provides a list of potential questions to use in such surveys.
Only you would see the responses to this survey. Students could share personal challenges they face, such as internet access, life circumstances, and more. If, for example, a student is working full-time and a single parent, they can share their concerns about time management.
Sending this survey early would demonstrate care for your students and allow you to quickly change the course based on students’ needs (Fedesco, Brockman, & Hall, 2021). Students will appreciate your proactive concern about their lives and needs. As you receive responses from students, you may like to email some of them individually and address their concerns to further demonstrate your care and interest in their learning and well-being.
Fedesco, H.N., Brockman, A.J., & Hall, E. (2021). Assessing student needs in your course. Vanderbilt University Course Development Resources. https://www.vanderbilt.edu/cdr/module-2/assessing-student-needs-in-your-online-course/
Pacansky-Brock, M. (n.d.). Getting to know you survey. Michelle Pacansky-Brock. Retrieved November 3, 2023, from https://brocansky.com/humanizing/student-info
Supiano, B. (2023, November 2). The social classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-social-classroom
University of the Arts London. (2020, July 31). Belonging in online learning environments [Audio podcast episode]. In Interrogating Spaces. https://interrogatingspaces.buzzsprout.com/683798/4795271-belonging-in-online-learning-environments
Our Top 3 Library Resources
The articles below were hand-picked by our team of designers, specifically for the UM System community, to bring you the best content we could find! Check with your university library for access via subscription or interlibrary loan.
Baule, S.. (2020). Engaging students in asynchronous online courses. Proceedings of the 43rd annual AECT convention. Association for Educational Communications & Technology. https://members.aect.org/pdf/Proceedings/proceedings20/2020/20_05.pdf
How can providing students options or a more multimodal experience affect their engagement in an online course? In this mixed methods study, the researcher asked students to introduce themselves by video. He then evaluated the effectiveness and impact of this change through various means, such as a survey, a word count analysis, and more. His findings suggest that video introductions foster further student engagement.
deLuse, S. (2018). First impressions: Using a flexible first day activity to enhance student learning and classroom management. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 30(2), 308-321.
This article proposes an activity for the first day of class: a three boards activity, in which students share their concerns and fears about the course, articulate their interests and goals for the course, and then identify discipline or course-specific background knowledge or practices. Though originally designed for in-person courses, this activity could receive quick adaptation for online learning environments. By integrating this activity, instructors can come to better know their students’ needs and goals and begin inviting students to participate in the discourse of the class.
McGinley, J. J., & Jones, B. D. (2014). A brief instructional intervention to increase students’ motivation on the first day of class. Teaching of Psychology, 41(2), 158-162.
We are often told what we may like to cover and include during the first week of class, but what research exists to support and warrant these activities? In this controlled experiment, an instructor implemented an introductory activity in some sections but not others. This activity invited students to converse about their goals for, interest in, and perceptions about the course. How does including such a discussion affect students’ motivation and transform the student learning experience?
Created on: January 16, 2024