Googling as an icebreaker
Posted June 1, 2016on:
Yesterday I outlined one way I end a series of modules in a course. I take group photos not just as a souvenir of our time together, but also as a symbol of the design and pedagogy of the experience.
Today I describe one way I start the ball rolling. Instead of introducing myself conventionally, I ask my learners to Google me [example].
I provide a shared online space, e.g., Padlet, where they state what they find out about me. As the task and tool are simple, the activity typically takes less than five minutes from the time I provide instructions to the time my learners complete the task.
Then I ask them why we do this. Here are a few typical responses and my rationales for this icebreaker.
A few will invariably suggest that I am providing practice for a tool that we will use later for learning tasks. They are correct.
It is a tinkering exercise to start learning a skill. The task is non-threatening because there is no course content and it is driven by curiosity or novelty. Once mastered, that skill and the technology become transparent and my learners can focus on what they need to share or learn.
But this technical practice is furthest from my mind.
My learners invariably find out quite a lot about me online. Almost all of it is relevant and correct, and occasionally some of it is not.
I use this experience to point out that:
- there is power in learner-centred discovery about something new
- their search behaviours are often superficial, e.g., they find this blog and copy information from it
- not everything they find online about me is right
- Padlet is one way to collect their findings
I use this shared experience to set expectations that:
- they are responsible for problem-seeking and problem-solving
- some search strategies are better than others
- my role as facilitator is to guide their learning by offering wisdoms on their strategies and choices
- it is important to externalise or visualise their thinking
I actually look forward to my learners finding wrong information about me. In one module, a participant found a female Ashley, and despite the clear gender difference, copied and pasted information about that Ashley into Padlet.
An authentic mistake like this is an opportunity for me to remind my learners to be more critical of what they find online and how they think. It is easy to search superficially, but it is harder and more important to think deeply.
As fun and as interesting as this activity might be, old habits die hard. Since most learners do not seem to be taught critical thinking skills with search tools, they rarely use other tools or strategies, or go beyond the first page of results. This is why the introductory Googling activity is not standalone. It is the start of my battle to change and win mindsets. It is my attempt to create more independent and critical learners.