Online classes most often begin with an “introduce yourself” discussion forum for students to get comfortable working with peers in discussions and other activities. Most follow the standard model of asking each student to say something about themselves, which can lead to perfunctory comments meant simply to fulfill the requirement. A gamified approach can produce more genuine interaction between students. Here are some activities to use in your online courses.
Jeopardy!-style games are a good way to generate student engagement while providing information that will help students succeed in the course. We have used these games to develop APA style expertise and program knowledge. Instructors can also ask questions about the school; these may be especially helpful in connecting distance learners to the institution or the field of study. There is a plethora of free Jeopardy options available, including Flippity, JeopardyLabs, and the official Jeopardy! site, where questions are pre-created. These provide a great way for students to build comradery in a team environment.
Team-building activities through virtual reality can allow students to work together to solve a mystery, such as using clues to identify an art thief, or complete other challenges. There are numerous websites that offer virtual escape rooms with a variety of preset games. Students use a web conferencing platform like Zoom and are then put into break out rooms to compete in teams against one another. On the opening day of student conferences, we used The Escape Game’s Remote Adventures, which did a great job of creating comradery among participants. While we used a paid version of the game, there are many free sites as well, including the following:
Trivia games and themes are excellent ways to engage students and include aspects of team building in coursework. This past summer weled a three-day virtual online student training and used an Olympics theme throughout due to the onset of the Olympics the following week. We awarded points for various optional engagement opportunities. For example, we had a break in between Zoom sessions and played several national anthems, and whoever guessed the correct country received a point. We also did several Olympics trivia sessions, and then one morning we awarded points to whomever put a country flag of their choice as their Zoom background.
We kept points throughout the three-day training session and used a live virtual scoreboard to create interest and friendly competition. At the end of the sessions, we awarded university and program merchandise to the top three winners. The students seemed to really enjoy this theme, and we saw how students were able to connect with one another over topics outside the training sessions, such as interest in culture, travel experiences, and family backgrounds.
Options for creating virtual trivia games, both live and asynchronous, include Crowdpurr and Jackbox.tv, which both use mobile technology to create trivia games for participants. We have used Crowdpurr to create engagement and content interest among online learners. Some of Crowdpurr’s options include crowd bingo, crowd social walls, crowd trivia, and crowd polls. Depending upon your instructional needs, you can either create your own questions or you can use the many sets of questions that are already on the platform. When creating a Crowdpurr session, you can select various timeframes, depending upon your needs and intent with using the game. All these options generate an ideal environment for team building in the online classroom.
Jackbox.tv has a similar approach to team building, using smartphones, tablets, and gaming devices to facilitate social interaction among students. Instructors may find that creating a theme throughout the course is a way to engage students with one another and the content. A great way to initiate the theme or main concepts of the online class is through these trivia gaming options.
Another element that we have used to build team engagement among students is a virtual scavenger hunt. Our students have really enjoyed this type of activity in the past as well. Through a virtual scavenger hunt activity, participants find and show specific items in a specific timeframe. When we used this activity, we gave about two minutes per item and then requested students to hold up their item on Zoom for the full group. Facilitators of this team-building activity can either ask students to find items in their home, such as their favorite snack or something that represents their favorite memory, or digital items on screen, such as a favorite entertainment website or digital pictures of their favorite place to visit. Because we had a larger group and were using the scavenger hunt as an icebreaker, we randomly assigned students to small breakout rooms via Zoom so they could share and get to know one other better. To really gamify the experience, you could award points for quickest response, most creative response, and so on. You could also incorporate a poll to allow the participants to vote for various response categories, which could create further engagement and friendly competition among students.
Kelly M. Torres, PhD, is the department chair and Aubrey Statti, EdD, is a core faculty member of the educational psychology and technology program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.