Ideas for …. Engaging Students Online through playful interludes

I wrote this post at the end of last year, but with lots of things happening in December it never got published. Now as we are still in Lockdown 3 in the UK and perhaps somewhat fatigued by remote learning, hopefully some of these ideas might be useful. You may well have tried a lot of these, or might be inspired to use them again. I’ve grouped the ideas based on Cable’s (2019) categories.

  • Icebreakers

Introductory activities that can help students feel at ease and get them to know each other

  • Different backgrounds or photos on a theme
  • “Passing the baton” relay type introductions
  • Asking students to say something that they are looking forward to learning in the module/session
  • Posting something in the chat – a photo or a comment on a theme eg something of a particular colour
  • Including a game when they come into the session eg online word search or similar
  • Music at the introduction to help students feel at ease
  • Ensure “housekeeping” is clear
  • Group builders

Bringing students together to work on a particular task or subject/activity.

  • Allowing enough time – more when online
  • Making clear rules of engagement eg cameras on or off etc
  • Careful thinking through group allocation – those who have prepared or not, random etc
  • Think of the outcome – something that the group can build or create together
  • Ensure it is inclusive and about taking part as opposed to “winning”
  • Be clear if students need specific roles in the group or are they just discussing an idea
  • How can they collaborate online – what can they do or create together and how they can do it, for example using Moodle wikis or OneNote, creating a shared document on Sharepoint
  • Could you give them a collaborative quiz or similar for them to share ideas
  • Energisers

Changing energy, good for online when a short break is required. Often getting students away from computer for a short period to refocus and refresh.

  • Asking students to take a walk around their environment and finding something
  • Online treasure hunts
  • Do something active and report back
  • Mindfulness breaks
  • Could use a spinner to select students to respond
  • Parting ways

Concluding the session and potentially preparing for next time. Can enable an element of reflection and asking students what they enjoyed, would like more of for next time.

  • Could use a online noticeboard or collaboration tool board to summarise experiences and give students time to respond before incorporating feedback next time
  • Ask a student to provide a summary or reflect on a learning point – could use a spinner
  • Or put a one word answer in chat or an emoji on how they feel at the end of the session
  • What action will they take after the session?
  • What do you want them to come prepared with for next time?

Other ideas

  • Where timetables allow starting sessions early to enable students to arrive, settle, ask questions etc
  • Where timetables allow staying in sessions after the slot to enable students to ask questions etc
  • Finishing/starting sessions late/early to enable informal interactions
  • Scheduling informal drop-ins, coffee catchups for students. 
  • Give the above a purpose – either related to a particular topic on a module or a general session where students might share something, what they have done at the weekend, useful articles they have found and so on.
  • Ask students to lead informal sessions so they can steer the interaction and you are a participant to change the dynamic
  • Use social media to share information or connect students if they wish (make sure you familiarise yourself with your institutions social media policy – you could create a page where students can share their social media IDs and a hashtag for the module or group
  • You could allocate a couple of random tasks each week – either related to the module or just social, give to each students and ask them to report back, for example taking a picture of something yellow or the first thing they saw on waking up, a useful resource they have read, a picture of something in their kitchen etc.
  • One idea from playful learning is to have a mascot for the module (or conference in this case) that tweets regularly about the conference, could you have a module mascot that shares information and ideas?  Gain contributions to the random task?
  • Introducing a prop to online meetings and sharing them with participants, for example things that you might not normally take with you but which can make a good point. Could be a book, game, hat etc. obviously depending on what you are teaching or doing.

Places to get more ideas….

These four groups are based on categorisations suggested by Liz Cable in Playful Learning (2019)

Lots of games here –

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