Interactive Introductions with Google Slides to Build a Learning Community
Albany, University at
I have been teaching online for over 13 years on multiple platforms and across multiple programs and courses. Over the years, my biggest challenge has been to create a community of learners with the same spirited feel that in-person communication can bring. My cognitive and teaching presence has been strong, but I continuously set goals to increase students’ social presence (Garrison, 2000) online. I have tried numerous ideas to increase community among online students: whole group ‘meet your classmates’ discussion boards, audio and video mini-lessons and discussions in addition to printed versions and introduced students to tools outside of Blackboard, such as Padlet and Flipgrid, to encourage communication. Each idea brought some success, but I was still searching for a way to replicate the energy that fills the first on-campus class together online, until now. Recently, I created an innovative way for students to introduce themselves at the start of the semester with great success. Rather than rely on traditional text-based discussion boards, I create an interactive presentation through Google Slides to encourage personalization and facilitate communication. This practice has transformed how students meet, connect, engage and collaborate with each other and sets the stage for a thriving and connected learning community.
Originally sparked by an idea shared online by Eric Curts of ControlAltAchieve to create community in elementary classrooms, I redesigned the activity to meet the needs of my graduate students. I created an editable presentation in Google Slides and required students create a slide that represents who they are as a way for students to introduce themselves to the class and easily comment on their classmates’ slides to spark community and connection. Here is how I did it:
First, I created a presentation through Google Slides and gave students editing access. The first slide clearly listed the procedures for students to create their introduction. I required students list their name, upload their photograph and recommended they share information about themselves to help us get to know them better: interests, family, sports, pets, TV and movies, music, favorite subjects, etc.
Next, I created my own slide as a model. I uploaded a picture of myself and shared both professional and personal information: how long I had been teaching, information about my family and dogs and a few tidbits about my favorite foods and activities. I personalized the slide by using my favorite colors and font and urged students to do the same. See the opening slides here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1xR53Cx62xQ7USj7XwRtq2NwD1U--z9wMNjTUfl_27KE/edit?usp=sharing
I shared the link to the interactive presentation online and urged students to return to it often during the first week to ‘meet’ their fellow classmates.
The effect was immediate. Over the first few days of the course, I was truly impressed with the high level of engagement within the presentation and felt much more connected to my students than I had in the past. Students eagerly created their slides and commented on their peers’ slides, sharing interests, asking questions and even exchanging recipes. While I cannot share the actual slides to protect student privacy, you can see the comments posted on my own slide with students’ names removed as an example:
The camaraderie that developed in just a few short days far surpassed the connections made on traditional discussion boards and I received multiple emails from students expressing their delight with the activity. Students reported this activity helped them feel more connected to their online classmates than ever before and were walking away with a clear model they could use in their future classrooms. Here are some comments pulled directly from emails and google comments:
I love this presentation to meet each other. I did not know Google had this feature. I may want to use this in my classroom!
I enjoyed this format of introduction to the course.
This is such an interesting way to meet one another! In previous online classes, I only knew names, but now I’ll have a face to each name!
This medium through which to introduce ourselves and get to know each other is truly enjoyable!
This is a great idea to get to know one another, and the fact that we can add comments directly to each page makes for great communication.
I am really loving the personal experience so far!
I truly love this format to get to know everyone and it is nice to put a face to a name!
As I reflect on the experience, I can identify a few important reasons the activity was so effective. First, the activity allowed for a more creative and personalized experience. Students were not introducing themselves in the same traditional printed way they were in the past and instead, had the freedom to personalize their introduction in a low-stakes activity, increasing participation.
Second, students were required to include a picture of themselves to complement their introductions. They could upload a picture or instantly take a photo using their webcam right within Google Slides. As a result, students could readily ‘see’ their classmates, something not as easily done in the past.
Finally, the ease of commenting allowed our community to flourish. Rather than reply to classmates with a more formal register through printed discussions, students quickly and easily added brief, targeted comments to highlight the connections they were making, focusing on content and community over form. Through these comments, we made connections, shared dreams and built a community paralleling the community formed on the first night of an on-campus class.
I was thoroughly amazed that such an informal, low-stakes and easy-to-create activity had such an impact on the feeling of community at the start of the course, and beyond. I pin these interactive presentations to my browser so I can easily ‘see’ my students each day. I browse the slides periodically to mentally connect with students, to make connections to the content they are posting throughout the course and to keep my sense of community high. I urge my students to do the same.
This experience can easily be replicated with other faculty to heighten the feeling of community in online classes and create genuine connections with students to form positive instructional relationships online.
Garrison, D. R. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education , 2(2-3), 1-19.
Please see the informal documentation from student emails' and Google comments included in the narrative.