Promote Community through Student Introductions

Quality Review Showcase

The Quality and High Quality online course reviews explore components proven to be best practices in online course design. This post showcases High Quality item, “An opportunity for students to introduce themselves to develop a sense of community is provided.”

It is tempting to think of online courses as a solitary experience; a student logs in when convenient, learns at their own pace, and participates at different days/times than peers. But learning does not happen in isolation. Getting to know others in an online course can help ease the feeling of isolation but can also benefit academically – actions like asking for notes, forming study groups, and asking for clarification from peers can lead to improved outcomes.

What are Some Ways your Online Course can be Designed to Meet this Standard?

  • Most importantly, explain the rationale for asking students to introduce themselves.
  • During the first week or two, require students to introduce themselves to others. The most common way is through the Discussions tool. Make it worth a small amount of points to encourage them to participate.
    • Keep the instructions somewhat flexible. It makes sense to ask them to talk about their year in school or major, but personal information like who they live with or the makeup of their families should not be specifically solicited.
    • Images or videos can be encouraged but not required.
  • If your online course has in-person or synchronous (Zoom) components, consider facilitating a small icebreaker activity in real time

What Does This Look Like in a Real Online Course?

Example 1: Laurie O. Campbell, EME6055, Current Trends and Issues in Instructional Design.

This very simple introduction exercise asks students to share four words and one picture that is representative of themselves within an online discussion. This intentionally open prompt lets students share details that they are comfortable with. Only being able to share four words also encourages students to reflect on what they want to express.

Example 2: Audra Skukauskaite, EDF7475, Qualitative Research in Education.

In this course, introductions take place through Zoom toward the end of the first class or at the beginning of the second. First, the teacher provides an overview of the course goals and shares her observation that we describe ourselves differently depending on the context and situation. She then invites students to write down a response to each of the following prompted listed on a slide.

Who are you?….think of your family, background, who you are….and write down:

  • Ordinary item
  • Home adjective
  • Plant, flower
  • Family tradition
  • Family tendency
  • Something you were told as a child
  • Place of birth
  • 2 food items representing your family
  • Stories about…
  • Memories you have

Students are given a few minutes to think through those topics and write the items down without too much thinking or analysis. Then, the teacher introduces the idea of turning it into a Identity Poem by adding “I am from…” prompt before each listed item (inspired by Janesick’s 2015 Stretching Exercises for Qualitative Researchers book). Students have a few minutes to work on their poems, taking out, adding, or changing anything they wish.

Students then are given the option to recite their poem OR to introduce themselves in an alternative format, which prompts listed on another slide:

  • Say your preferred name and a hello in your home language(s) or dialect(s).
  • What brought you to the doctoral program?
  • Share something you like to do beyond academics.

The slide includes an image through which the professor models sharing one of the things she likes to do beyond academics. Students then introduce themselves through the poem, the alternative prompts, or a combination. When everyone finishes, discussion questions are posed: What do we have in common? What connects us? This helps build the foundation of a learning community.

Example 3: Karen Mottarella, PSY3074, Career Readiness II.

Blending the personal and professional elements of forming a learning community, students are given a scenario to work though.

Blending the personal and professional elements of forming a learning community, students are given a scenario to work though.

You happen to be in the elevator of a company that you would love to work for one day. You recently submitted your job application for a position at this company and hope to hear back soon. You notice that one other person is in the elevator. You say hello and they introduce themselves as the hiring manager of the company. This is your chance to make a great impression and get an interview, but you know that you only have the time of the elevator ride, as the hiring manager seems to be in a hurry.

This is your chance to deliver an elevator speech – a short monologue that is used to introduce yourself and persuade the listener that you are an asset to their company. Most elevator speeches contain a brief introduction, include a statement of your eagerness and enthusiasm to be a part of the company, and outline your goals and qualifications for the job.

It is especially important for psychology majors to integrate their educational experiences as they sell themselves, given that we are qualified to hold jobs that often list “other related fields” in their job ads. This elevator speech is no exception – you’ve heard that this company doesn’t normally hire psychology majors, but you are certain that your degree has prepared you for this job.

Record your elevator speech.

Example 4: Amanda Groff, ANT3017, Muggle Studies: The Anthropology of Harry Potter.

This optional discussion serves as a great way for students to begin expressing their interests in the course content.

(Not required) Feel free to share a little about yourself! What is your major? What brought you to a class about Harry Potter? Connect with your fellow students! Please don’t post any personal details (i.e., phone number, address).

Remember everyone, whether you have only seen the movies, or only read the books, or both, we make no judgements here! We are here for the love of Harry Potter and it makes no difference to me how you were introduced to the wizarding world!

Choosing to make the discussion optional, Groff says, “I usually get around a 75% response rate with no points attached. With that type of discussion, I don’t want them to feel obligated to have to participate and share things about themselves unless they want to. I believe that for those who don’t feel comfortable sharing, seeing other students who have shared still gives them that sense of community. Additional discussion threads absolutely have points attached, but I think providing a “lounge” or sharing thread is really fun for them. There’s no pressure or obligation!”

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