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Online Icebreakers

 IcebreakerAfter commenting that all the icebreakers I could locate were intended for classrooms, I finally went on the hunt for those that were intended for use as elearning strategies. So, this is what I have found:

 This programme suggests a range of online icebreaker to promote student / teacher interaction. It begins a rationale for the use of  ‘icebreakers’ with what I would call the usual strategies such as being available. Tell us about yourself type of exercises. However it then lists several ideas I like no 15 in the series which asks students to write about their own experience of the topic in hand (in this case mathematics) – this is immediately followed with a quote related to this topic that is controversial and asks for coments on this. No 23 could also be used to good effect. I have seen this used in a class exercise where it worked well. Essentially it asks you to describe why you have the name you have. Another one that has a number of resources as well as a sound rationale for the use of icebreakers is this one which is a Pointer and Clicker article. (Not sure if this title has some significance?) Actually now that I look at it, although the introduction is sound, the icebreaker exercises seem to be for classrooms not elearning examples.

This one looks more promising and is designed for tertiary students. Its called Reinventing Class Discussion Online.  this makes the point that “the more knowledge students have about each other, the more sharing of social cues, the more motivated they will be to participate in on-line discussion”.  The idea that students might want to ‘hang out’ in a chat room (sort of equivalent to a coffee bar) is one suggestion. Another is to introduce yourself by identifying 8 nouns that apply to you. I suspect that there is a need to vary the exercise in order to keep up the interest of the lecturer! I notice that it has a reference to work by Lawrence Erlbaum who is a trusted author in tertiary education. The suggestion under the headings: Repair, Reconstruct and Formulations look possible.

  •  Reconstruct refers to students taking a ‘snip’ from another students work and creating a new message by responding to this.
  • Repair: this is where students correct, clarify comments made by other eg. I believe student X means……, or building on the comments by X….. They can also correct themselves.
  • Formulations: Students summarise and assess where the conversation is headed – this might point out a new direction or topic. 

Another suggestion is that students identify the type of message being posted eg. as a ‘joke’, an ‘opinion’ , ‘evidence’ – then others know how to repond. It also suggests that on-line contribution could be assigned marks …. a tricky venture – (opinion!)

Assigning people roles eg. the eternal optimist, devil’s advocate, trouble shooter or discussion moderator. The assignment of a role helps students to feel freer to express themselves or disagree with one another.  (I like the sound of this one. I have assigned people to either side of a debate in the past – which again worked well in some instances –  mainly when the students took on the role of being a devil’s advocate naturally. Assigning them to the role appeals to me).

Found another site that has a long list of possible tasks. Worth a look. Its called “using online icebreakers“.

NB: It seems to me that ice-breakers become even more important for virtual classrooms as establishing a social presence is much more difficult when compared to face-to-face contact.


August 26, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities | , | 6 Comments

Ongoing thoughts on the course


I turned to the course Blog and noted that there was a video to explain the basics of the various elements of the course. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of disturbance in the dialogue, however it did inspire me to systematically go through all the quick links listed on the right side of the Blog. This turned out to be a great idea! I now have a much better idea of where to locate information, so thanks for that. One thing that I did learn from the phone conversation the other night was how to locate student emails from the web page – ie. select the help box in the top middle bar on the screen. Having 2 methods of locating this is great and far preferable to not having a clue! I suspect I am a slow learner but it highlights for me the need to be very explicit with students when using elearning and provide exercises that orientate the student to the system. Having too many options I have found to be confusing, so being able to locate the basics is a bit of a relief. I think Ausubel would agree with this idea of orientating the learner – ‘advanced organisers’ was his term for this.

I have decided to embark on reading some of the articles to see what I could find that would  provide good ideas on elearning. One useful one was by Lynn Ambrose:  Loved the idea of the exercise where you introduce yourself from the perspective of your cat (could no doubt be dog, pet sheep, budgy or anything else such as your office mate) and she then goes on to talk about different voices and how important it is to foster the ‘voice’ relevant for the situation such as when the conversation is stuck or ideas need to be teased out. There are also tones and critical stances considered to be important to foster. Finally she said “My role as a student changed.  I stopped looking for “correct answers” from the e‑moderators and instructor very early in the course.  Instead, I realised the benefit of being a member of a collaborative learning community where I held my ideas up alongside the ideas of others for discussion and exploration.” So, it appears that the dreams of our instructors may yet be realised and I too will be propounding the value of the collaborative learning community! I look forward to the development of a group ID.

In another article, Ed Hootstein uses the metaphor of wearing 4 pairs of shoes to describe the roles of the online teacher.

 Go to fullsize image

This is a fairly simple overview of what is needed but easy to keep in mind   The shoes are –
those of instructor, social director, program manager, and technical assistant. Seems to me that someone else could readily play the role of technical assistant while the other 4 pairs are rather like the usual role of the teacher – although being a ‘social director’ is  not so necessary in an actual classroom as students will socialise beyond the class so making links with on another.

Following the session with Nancy White today, it did occur to me that much of what we are talking about is good old fashoned teaching / learning principles. They still apply in ‘virtual worlds’. This is encouraging! ‘Sitting by Nelly’ is a very applicable phrase and seems to capture the idea of leaning over someones shoulder as described by Nancy. She gaaave the example of the use of ‘Twitter’ – which can be used in a variety of ways; point made that seeing others use it gives you possiblities that you had never thought about. Peer assist is another concept that Nancy referred to. The main message seems to be to locate people who can assist you use technology effectively with a focus on watching them rather than go to courses to be taught…. the last phrase are my words! ‘Be uncomfortable in your unknowingness’ – an interesting expression used by Nancy. Of course, you often don’t know what you don’t know – this is the value of watching those who do know – they demonstrate what else is possible. This implies learning that is alongside real people rather than a ‘virtual shoulder’. The dial in peer-assist to evaluate a Wiki is an interesting idea and perhaps a way of developing a ‘virtual’ shoulder.  Mind you Derek talked about the importance of being in the ‘same space’ – this implies the importance of the real contact with some one using technology. There it goes again – the theme that best results are gained when working alongside real people. The suggestion that enthusiasm and expertise can be oppressive is an interesting idea. The challenge was about whose shoulder we should be looking over – is it important that ‘actual’ people on the course get together to share their skills in using some of the technology.? Is being totally virtual too much of an ask?

George Siemens and Collectivism: notes from his elluminate session. Guide on the side versus sage on the stage – sometimes the guide is not sufficient. Yea! ‘Way finding’ – suggests that this is assisted by the Blogging community.  ‘Giveness’ – ie given by the tools that we use such as voice interaction tools. Increased nodes of information result in decreasing the importance of the lecturer. (implies that one is able to access this!) Looks at the role of the teacher being the ‘curator’ – students learn with guidance rather than being told what they need to know…. the curator directs students to the key structures of a discipline… like an exhibition on show?? (Leigh) An interesting thought! A curator would also have many items tucked away that are not necessarily on show but could be pulled out as needed.  Multiple perspectives on the items on view – not sure who these perspectives come from. Is the role of the observer passive – ie, the curator who is not usually in view during an exhibition (Dave’s thought here). Do the items relate to a variety of learning tasks? A common educational task when going to an exhibition would be that students are expected to notice particular things and bring back information to discuss. This could inlcude discussion with the curator, or with the person ‘on duty’ in the exhibition.  Or do they simply attend and sort out what they think is good to comment on? Or a mixture of both? One hopes that there is are particular education tasks / objectives so that students exposure to the exhibits are maximised. Is this being a guide or a sage??? Anyway – much more helpful to go to George’s blog for more information. He says that the education model to use is one of a joint curator and adminstrator.  The curator is the expert who chooses the artifacts to display and remains behind the scenes but will interpret and direct as necessary. A major concepts  seems to be that there needs to be space for the learner to engage in manipulating the artifacts.

What stimulates most engagement between community members?

I was thinking about this after re-reading Bronwyn’s point that when things go wrong (such as technology) this can be a good test of the community and a time when people band together in common adversity. I also noticed that when I introduced the topic of ‘who is our  community’ in an email, this brought about an interesting response from lots of members. It was great to hear from everyone. Why does it take adversity to stimulate the group to come to life? Is this the way it should be? Are there more ‘intellectual’ things that we should be taxing ourselves with? On the other hand is the course primarily about learning how to master the various types of technolgy in which case what is being taxed is our technical skills. In my experience, what brings a group to life using Blackboard is a  controversial scenario. Students come up fighting! Would it be in keeping with a course such as this to deliberately provoke students? (- in the interest of developing a community as well as assisting the group to work through some of the issues in developing a community.) Perhaps I should dream up something over the holiday break and see what happens!

 Anticipating technology that goes wrong:

David has bravely offered to do a session to discuss glitches in technology. I am an expert at locating them but hopeless at dealing with them. So I am looking forward to this session. Technology glitches is one of the biggest reasons for lack of success when teaching on-line (David cited research for this). One main message seems to be to have a plan B in case you cannot access the intended information. This could include a back-up communication channel (if expecting a synchronous session). Derek talked about the idea of a sandbox where everyone plays around with the technology before getting serious.  Set up limits as general prinicples eg. if students can’t get access within a specfic time frame (eg. 20 mins) – then tell them to forget it! There are other threaded discussions provide more functionality than Blackboard – often a matter of personal preference. Great! Hopefully we can get on to these as BB is very stilted. eg. Google groups. (apparently there can be email alerts – but need to subscribe to each new thread). Posting an image next to the discussion is possibly a good idea.  Is a Web platform needed? Moodle does a good threaded discussion (Bronwyn). Skype seems to be favoured over telephone – mainly because of the cost – problem is that not everyone can access it readily.  Is it reasonable to expect people to access this? I can’t help but think that a lot of the decision making in regards to on-line learning is similar to any teaching. Ensure that resources are available and working well and that there is a plan B in case things don’t go to plan – not only technology but student responses which can be equally unpredictable.

Had a listen to Derek Chirnsides session. ‘Adding acommunity flavour to taught courses’. using a constructivist view, learner centered environment; team orientated approach. Starting with stories as a technique to begin the community. Suggestion of an icebreaker. Make a post in just 3 words. must have some intentionality.

Uses 3 levels of reflection – eg. a Blog; open journal – readable by all course members; closed journal – lecturer only. Hope he tells us how to do these!

Teaching strategies – some enhance communities, some are neutral. Principal: a community orientated course breeds to help create linkages and synergies.

Very carefully worded comments re criticism / feedback on a course – honesty is the best policy – hmmmm depends on how ‘honest’ commented is provided; nothing worse than negative, unconstructive  feedback. (It may be seen as honest!) Best idea is to create an environment where people are listened to with respect. Role modelling by the lecturer can encourage constructive comments and the confidence to speak out. Requirement of  posting on a reflective journal on a weekly basis – this gives you feedback and an idea about where people are at. 

Derek asked what a community was (written note) – I notice that the discussion quickly diverted to chocolate as an incentive. This is a very good example of not taking people seriously and discouraging a sense of community.  I don’t like this back chat during the elluminate sessions (honesty here!). I find it disruptive – rather like giggly students chattering in the back row. What do others think? Good point about the technology being the problem rather than people not wanting to be a community – using technology creates barriers and needs to be taken into account in distance education. Identity, value and meaning is the  basis of a community….. Sounds a bit like a culture or perhaps a subculture. People join a course to learn and might then join a community that they chose to belong to. Thus the course on technology enables them to become part of a community of their choice. It is not an end in itself.  As for motivation to do a course – what’s new!! Percieved relevance as well as personal interest in the topic are big factors. Personal challenge is also a factor – the so called ‘just right challenge’ is the responsibility of the lecturer. Roslyn Arnold makes reference to this idea in education and we commonly use this phrase in relation to working with clients.

It did occur to me after the Eluminate session tonight (Oct 29th) that those who already have a reasonable knoweldge of the various types of technologies are more able to make use of the pace of the learning about new technologies than those of us who are technologically challenged.  Education theory tells us that adequate support (scaffolding / the ‘just right ‘ challenge) makes  a difference to the learners ability to gain confidence and move forwards. On many occassions I feel like I have got ‘stuck’ with the challenge being too enormous. The problem is that once in that position there is not much motivation to dig yourself out because it all seems too hard.  Be nice to have someone on the lookout to check out who was ‘stuck’ and looking for assistance rather than being branded as unmotivated and doing less work that expected. 


Assignment 3 was due today – well the plan for it should have been submitted. I was surprised at how unmotivated I was to complete this task and wondered why. On reflection it feels like a contrived exercise – my reality is that in Post Graduate teaching I spend considerable time and energy in attempting to provoke stimulating discussion with various levels of success. Granted, I am limited to BlackBoard but this is sufficient to run a discussion / debate on a topic. This current task would not appear to be asking me to do anything different that my normal teaching. However, it has occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to take something that I have done recently (it is still on BB), evaluate this and develop some new ideas to improve the nest session. The course that I would like to do is one where I teach across 2 student groups in Canada and New Zealand. Teaching this course is already over and above my workload but I feel that it is a good idea and could be developed to get a greater sense of sharing ideas between the 2 groups of students. My current experience of having been on this course on elearning communities has given me further ideas about other possibilities. It also reminds me that student centered learning is about meeting the needs of the students so I am hopeful that I could do this task which does not entirely fit with the guidelines but does fit with the course objectives (and with my needs).

August 11, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities | , | 1 Comment

E Learning Communities

I am currently embarking on a course on the topic of e-learning communities. It is very early days so and I still feel rather bemused by the possibilities. However, we have been directed towards some good resources. For instance: The Art of Building a  Virtual Community:  I like the visual representation of  linking, lurking, learning and leading as components of an elearning community.  Apart from anything its easy to remember! It also identfies that there is a leader who holds it all together – this is contrary to a feeling I was getting that in these communiteis there is equality where everyone shares equally… a hopeful dream! In Derek’s model, the leader is referred to as a ‘commentator’. The community develop a culture – no doubt this will depend to a certain extent on the style of leadership shown.

We have now had the opportunity to hear Sheryl talk about her article and more! Great summary of a range of ideas that are central to coming to terms with the facets of Virtual communities. I particularly liked the the 4 types of virtual communities. These were: communities of relationship (trust); community of place (based on locale ) community of passion (committment to common goal; interest) community of memory (been through a common event). 

Great to hear some ideas about how to begin a community – this should belong in my section on Warm ups!! (or ice-breakers??) Hot or cold at the beginning – I am sure that there is an essay ini all of that!  The idea that there needs to be an incentive to get people motivated to sign up is important; the idea of an inspiring lecture from someone of note; facilitating a conversation about the central topic – begin with questions that are safe ie. people can respond on the basis of their own experiences.; could begin with simple ideas like introducing yourself – however, if there’s a big group that can become tedious…. I quite like the idea of posting your holiday snapshots (thanks Leigh for that idea!) or something similar so that the group gets a better visual idea of the life of other participants. Is a community of practice equal to a course or is it really only appropriate when people join up because of common interest?  Response was the if the community keeps on after the course, then it is may become a sharing community  – for its own sake rather than having to pass assignments. Of interest, there seems to be a big jump from the slide that talks about the various types of communites (see above) to the next one which refers to communites of learning (not mentioned on the slide about types of communities.) In fact, Sheryl suggested that learning environments were not true ‘communites’ Is this because  the ultimate purpose is to pass an assignment (an external motivator) and learn how to use the technology so that students have the skills to join an e-community? This would compare to being part of a community so that you can make connection with people for your own purposes – eg. professional issues, interest in crabs, cartoons or crafts …….. etc…

As with any learning community, the getting started and inspiring everyone right from the start is important. I am still waiting to get the feel of how to do this but am sure that others will have tried and tested ideas. Have now had some ideas about this following Sheryl’s discussion – I keep coming back to the idea that developing a virtual community is actually no different in principle than developing any sort of community. This feel like a SGO! (Stunning Glimpse of the Obvious).

Following the teleconference tonight (Aug 9th) with Oriel and others, I discussed my general feeling of being ‘out of control’ and wondering where the course was going. I was reassured that this is normal at this stage. Well, I don’t know about this – educationally it does not seem to be very sound and while I don’t expect to be proficient in the various e-learning strategies I would like to feel that I am making progress. I believe that clear parameters are the hallmark of any educational programme. Perhaps the clarity will evolve and I will be surprised. I hope so! Watch this space!

Just come across a resource that looks useful. ENO the ELearn Magazine. More about it later once I get a chance to review it properly.

A very good resource from Konrad Glogowski who spoke to the class using Elluminate. This is about instructional scaffolding in developing elearning communities. His talk was titled “Classrooms as 3rd Places”.  This explained well the need to develop a learner centered environment as the hallmark of such a community. He used the same arguments as those who promote student centred teaching in classrooms but it was interesting hearing some of the reality of this – how to get started, developing trust and confidence in being a elearner and the role of the teacher in all this. Clearly he was speaking from experience.

I happened to look up information about being client centered from another perspective and came across a list of characteristics of student centered teaching based on Carl Rogers work. This was in the Wikipedia – where else! I particularly like this quote:  “Students will collaborate on meaningful, authentic problems which serve to further their understandings of the subject matter and themselves”. It’s a reminder that this concept has been around for a long time. I wonder if its any easier to implement in ebased learning when compared to classroom teaching?

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August 9, 2007 Posted by | E learning communities | , | 9 Comments