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“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” – Warm-Up Exercises for Online Courses

Ella.jpgI simply must go – Baby, it’s cold outside
The answer is no – Ooh baby, it’s cold outside
This welcome has been – I’m lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm — Look out the window at that storm
I’m not writing about music, Ella Fitgerald, or the weather, although it is actually feels like November in Boston right now. I’m writing about warm-up exercises, which, understandably brought these lyrics to mind.
I have attended sessions at ASTD and other conferences on warm-up exercises. And I have taken classes that started with warm-up exercises. I remember one, offered by IBM/Lotus, where we had placards on our tables and had to write our name on one side and the place we most want to travel to on the other. Then, when we went around the room, we had to introduce ourselves with the location and the reason we want to go there. The exercise did not generate deep bonding.
Based on my less-than-positive experiences with warm-up exercises, I struggled to find ones that worked in my own teaching, realizing that classes are generally more successful when students feel connected. Online it can be harder to build camaraderie. I had techniques, such as parties in virtual worlds, that worked once a class was in session and people knew each other. (It was surprising how closely these parties replicated real life get-togethers.) I asked my students to complete profiles prior to the start of class so that we could all get to know each other a little. But my first sessions rarely had anything more frivolous than going through my roster for quick introductions.
Hence I was delighted to read Felicity O’Dell’s comment:

A simple task like asking each student to describe what they can see from their window or around them as they sit at their computer working on the course is an easy and unthreatening thing to do and can build confidence in people who may be unused to posting to a group. It also helps everyone get a sense of the other students as real people and so seems to make the collaborative learning experience of the course richer and more engaging.

My students were often scattered throughout the world and I wished I had tried this with them, especially given the different locations, time zones, and weather. Curt Bonk made a comment that he likes “using YouTube videos to start or end discussion in class.” I can easily imagine that a well-chosen video (probably not a turntable) could provide a catalyst for a great discussion in the beginning of a class when people don’t know each other yet.
Do you have warm-up exercises that have been successful? Or ones to avoid?

16 Responses

  1. Felicity O'Dell

    Maybe it’s because I don’t have a quick imagination myself but I think that warm-ups that people can do without having to worry about saying something ‘clever’ are likely to be most appropriate for most courses. A couple of things that I’ve experienced that have worked are:
    what you did yesterday
    something that makes you happy
    a teacher you remember (on a course relating to teaching)
    a test that stands out in your mind (on a course relating to assessment)
    In tasks like these people can find something to say without too much effort and often come up with something that makes them come to life for their fellow students (and tutors).

  2. Emily

    Some of the most successful online warm-up activities I have experienced include:
    � posting a picture with a brief introduction to yourself on a course LMS where students can go and view their classmates prior to the start of class
    � students breaking up into mini chat rooms where they had to come up with a resolution to a posted class dilemma which they would then bring back and report to the entire class
    � posting to a FUN question at the beginning of class either with your name attached or anonymously (this really helped students open up!)
    Hope this helps!
    Emily

  3. Iida H.

    I absolutely love the song, so for this posting the lyrics were the perfect ice breaker for me!
    I strongly believe that gaining the learner�s attention is a key component to making the instruction �stick� and what a better way to do it than different warm up exercises and ice breaker activities. As to different the different activities, based on my experience as an online class participant and teacher, anything that the learners can relate to works. Obviously this is easier said than done. One way to facilitate this is to have the learners complete a survey prior to starting the semester to find out possible common points of interest amongst them to refer to in the warm up activities.
    Also as said in the previous comment, humor is always a great way to break the ice. For example showing a humorous and/or conversation provoking image that can be tied back into the topic of the class can be an effective way to engage the students.

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  5. Kingsley Tagbo - IT Career Coach

    My most successful warm-up exercise has been asking the students to introduce themselves, talk about their aspirations and goals, why they registered for the course and what they hope to achieve.
    People generally like discussing or talking about themselves.

  6. Azahar

    Warm up activities for students online have a number of different possibilities. I enjoy ones that make the students involve themselves in their own surroundings, and then share with the others their experience. Ones to avoid, however, seem to be size oriented. Be sure you are using activiites appropriate for the size. A tool I love to use for disscussion is on http://globalhighered.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/ranking-in-a-different-way/#comment-2682 A great tool to use as well.
    Enjoy!
    Azahar (EducationDynamics)

  7. Azahar

    Things to watch out for tend to be not focusing on size. Insure your activities are proper for the size of your class. Good activities I like are discussions of education itself. I love this video http://globalhighered.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/ranking-in-a-different-way/#comment-2682 that inspired my students.
    Enjoy!
    Azahar (EducationDynamics)

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