Orientation and Getting-to-Know-You Activities

Posted: Monday, September 14, 2009 | Posted by Joni Dunlap | Labels: ,

The first week of class… Whether on-campus or online, we always plan a few orientation and getting-to-know-you activities in an attempt to get our courses off on the right foot. I actually really enjoy these activities, but I always look for new ways to accomplish my objectives. One thing I’ve learned is that, especially in online courses, orientation and getting-to-know-you activities cannot – and should not – just be addressed during the first week of a class. To really support students and help build a productive learning community, these types of activities need to occur throughout the semester. Below are a few of the activities I have used in my online course so far this fall.

Orientation –
In an on-campus course, it can be deadly boring to spend the first class meeting reading through the syllabus. However, there is important information in the syllabus that we want students to know and keep track of. In online courses, it can also be boring…and, therefore, students sometimes don’t go through all of the course materials as precisely as is need to be successful in the course. So, using the quiz feature in eCollege, I created a course and syllabus scavenger hunt that students had to submit by the end of the first week. To complete the 12-question scavenger hunt, students had to read the syllabus, locate materials in the course shell, and watch the orientation videos. The results of the scavenger hunt reassured me that students were locating and tracking important course information, and alerted me to any misconceptions or confusions that individual students had about the materials. Example questions:

  • In your own words, what are the learning objectives for this course? What is the reason for listing the ILT competencies with the learning objectives?
  • Why is "creative" part of the course title?
  • There are four projects for the course: Presentation Makeover Magic, Job Aid Makeover Spectacular, Presentation Prowess, and Design Lessons Learned. Which project are you most looking forward to working on? Why?
  • Why are the weekly agendas for each week's learning activities hidden at the start of the semester?

Getting-to-Know-You –

I don’t think it is very realistic to get to know people – especially in an online course – with one share-your-bio activity during the first week of class. Building relationships and community requires multiple opportunities to share and connect. So, every week or two, I reengage students in getting-to-know-you activities. Here are two activities I have used at the start of my online course this semester.

Superhero powers:
For this activity, students responded to the following prompt:
What are your superhero powers? What is your superhero moniker? And, how do your superhero powers help you in life?
Using VoiceThread, students share a photo and record their response (see below). Their creative responses are so fun…and the results are that we really learn about the assets that each person sees as her or his strengths. It is a very positive approach to a typical share-your-bio activity that also results in learning more about each person’s playful side and creative spirit.

A 5-minute conversation: During the first few weeks of my online course, I invited students to participate in a 5-minute phone conversation with me. I did this so that the students and I might feel more connected and less distant from each other, and so we could hear each other laugh. About half of the students have taken me up on it so far, and my plan is to keep inviting students at different points throughout the course to make sure all who do want to talk have a chance to.

What do you do to help orient students to your online course? What do you do to help students connect with each other and get to know each other?


  1. Jenna Ream said...
  2. I love it Joni! You have such creative ideas. I also like doing a scavenger hunt, but I tend to have students search provided websites for content information that interests them and then have them share what they have found. I like that this gets them out of eCollege and into resources that are established outside of our class, and by pointing them to specific website resources I know have a wealth of information on our content, it is win-win~ they build confidence in using the technology and jumpstart thinking about our content... and we all learn a bit about each other's interests in the process.

  3. Brian Yuhnke said...
  4. One thing that has come as a surprise to me is the main projects I assign each unit. I purposely leave the topics of each project fairly open ended to allow students to be creative and to allow for them to choose the direction they want to take it. Students have really used this approach to steer their products to an area that they are passionate about. This alone has me learning more about them than I have in the past with "get to know you" type assignments.

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