Icebreakers can help promote the important social component of online learning. Common icebreakers have students share information about themselves with the idea of creating a bit of conversation and perhaps provide fodder for course-related discussions later in the course.
Curt Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University, has gone beyond this traditional approach. “I've gone from that social icebreaker to being a little more course-focused now in having people post their commitments to the course and their expectations within the course,” he says. “If they post their commitments and expectations, there's less likelihood they're going to drop, because everybody has read their commitments. They want to save face.
“Everyone wants to save face. When you've posted your commitment [to the course], you've enacted a plan, a strategy for success. You've set that goal, that end state.”
In addition to getting students to think and interact about why they're in the course, Bonk brings in former students to talk about what they've accomplished in the course. These former students often say things like “Dr. Bonk's class was really hard that first week, but hang around after the first week. It lightens up.”
“If you hear from peers—not just instructors—you are more likely to commit and succeed,” Bonk says.