I’m always so excited at the beginning of a new semester. My desk is organized. Everything is ready to go in my online course. I’m just waiting for the students to login and introduce themselves.
But once they do, I’m often disappointed. Many of their discussion posts introducing themselves look the same with brief answers to the questions I posed. I don’t necessarily feel like I know these students any better. I was so excited to get to know them, but this ends up feeling like a limp handshake in the world of virtual introductions. So how can I make the most of the introduction activity in my online class?
Visuals can help us recall information better. At the very least, ask your students to update the profile image in the LMS. But why stop there. You can ask students to create a short slideshow with images, text, audio, and video to introduce themselves. There are many free tools online to enable students to create a slideshow, including PowToon, Animoto, and Kizoa. Usually students cannot download their slideshows with a free account, so they can simply include a link to their slideshow in a discussion post.
Another option is having students create a comic strip to share some unique information about themselves. ToonDoo and Pixton are two great sites for creating comic strips. These sites often let users download the finished comic strip, which should be attached to a discussion post.
Ask questions that connect with the course materials
Student introduction activities are great for getting to know each student as an individual. I always ask if they have a preferred name so I can be sure to use that when addressing them throughout the course. I also like to know what their major is and any hobbies they have. But I also ask for information that I can use to help them make connections to the course material when appropriate. I ask what work and organizational experience they currently have and any future career goals. I also ask what they are most excited to learn in the course and what questions they have. Depending on what they share, I can often foreshadow topics we’ll cover later in the course when responding to their introductions.
Ask abstract questions
Sometimes the best way to get to know students is to ask them vague questions. I once asked students what color they associated with the course topic. I was pleased to see the careful thought students put into answering this question. Furthermore, I was very surprised when other students used the color as a prompt for their response. You can also ask students to find an image on Google images that illustrates their first impressions of the course, or other such open-ended tasks.
Create a database for quick reference
I also like to refer back to information students shared in their introductions throughout the course. To help manage the information, I create an Excel spreadsheet and enter the information students shared. It takes some time to create this file at the beginning of the semester, but I save so much time later when I want to make a connection with the student because the spreadsheet makes it easy for me to filter the records. In fact, after a few weeks of referring to my database, I don’t use it very much because I feel like I know each of the students in my online class much better and can easily recall information about each of them.
How do you design your student introduction assignments in your online classes? What tips can you share?