By Amy Erickson
Preparing for 2017
With the year coming to a close, many of us are preparing for our 2017 classes. I have been reviewing my notes about what has worked well and what needs additional work in the year to come. This week, the notes I reviewed discussed course introductions and how I wanted to learn more about getting students excited about my classes and the content. Dr. Alice Cassidy shared strategies and ideas on this exact topic in her 20-Minute Mentor video, “How Can I Use Icebreakers to Connect with Students?” Dr. Cassidy’s video gave me some wonderful new ideas for introductions and her work affirmed some of my current practices. More importantly, her video reminded me to consider the student perspective, to have fun, and to use introductions to get students thinking about the course material.
Allaying Fears with Humor
Like many of you, I have worked in higher education for more than twenty years. Because of our experience, it can be easy to forget how intimidating the academic world can be for our students. Last year, I had several students tell me that they were nervous about my class. Some had been out of college for a decade or more and were terrified by the idea of writing in an academic setting. After the class ended, several of these students reached out to me to tell me how relieved they were when I displayed a sense of humor in the course introductions. They said that my sense of humor made them feel much more comfortable and made me seem more approachable. Now, that is not to say that you have to turn into an entertainer in your class; it can be as simple as saying something like: Please reach out to tech support if you encounter any issues with the online course shell. If you reach out to me, be prepared to be disappointed. I brought a typewriter to college.
Surprise Your Students
We have all been in classrooms where we’ve gone around the room and introduced ourselves. This can be helpful, but it may not grab your students’ attention or get them excited about your course. Dr. Cassidy (2012) talks about playing the game Two Truths and One Wish. I play a similar version called Two Truths and One Lie. Students are asked to list two things that are true about themselves and one thing that is not true. The rest of the class tries to sort out truth from fiction. Imagine being in a class where the subject line for the introductions says: Welcome to the class – Let’s pay a game! Students inevitably click on that to see what it is all about. Now imagine reading this about your professor:
Welcome to the class. I am your instructor Amy Erickson and I am excited to be a part of your academic journey for the next 8 weeks. I’d like to use this discussion forum to get to know you and for you to get to know your peers. Please join me now in a game of Two Truths and One Lie. In this game, you will post three statements about yourself, one of which is not true. You will then read your peers’ statements and try to figure out which statement is a lie. I will get the game started with the following information:
- I am a New Zealand citizen.
- I was a collegiate weightlifting coach.
- I have thirty animals.
As you can see, this introduction gives students an opportunity to tell unique things about themselves; things that might not otherwise come up in a class. Students inevitably enjoy this exercise and tell me that the appreciated learning about each other and learning something personal about their instructor. They also inevitably mention that it was unexpected and fun.
Connecting to Content
Dr. Cassidy (2012) feels that introductions can also be used to get students thinking about the course content. An instructor can use an introduction to ascertain what students already know about the course material. Or, introductions can be created to allow students the opportunity to share content-related questions or expectations of the course. Dr. Cassidy (2012) additionally recommends asking questions without precise answers. For example, students can share their philosophy on a subject, their goals for the class, or a picture they took. You can take the pressure out of an introduction by making sure there are no wrong answers.
As much as I love Two Truths and a Lie, I really appreciated Dr. Cassidy’s suggestion of making introductions relate to the content of the course. I think I’ll augment my 2017 literature course introductions with the following questions:
- If you could be any literary character, who would it be? Why?
- Share a line from your favorite poem with us. If you don’t have a favorite poem, download the Poetry Foundation app (or go to the Poetry Foundation website) and find one! What is it about this line that resonates with you?
- If you could interview any author – living or dead – who would it be? What would be your first question?
If you have additional strategies for enhancing our 2017 introductions, please consider sharing them with us here.
Cassidy, A. (2016, November 25). How can I use icebreakers to connect with students?. [Webinar]. In Magna 20-Minute Mentors. Retrieved from http://www.magnapubs.com/mentor-commons/?video=3161