It’s always difficult to begin a course or a training workshop when your peers are strangers, especially when they are people who come from a conext or a culture you know little about. Imagine then, how tricky it can be to go through this process online, without the possibility of doing ice-breaker activities in person, or the non-verbal cues we rely so heavily on in communication. When interacting online, sometimes we operate with very few cues at all!
Everyone who has facilitated an online learning activity knows that the biggest challenge of online cooperation and learning is to develop feeling for the interest, preferences, and habits of those “on the other side of the computer”. It is difficult when you can neither see them nor sense any of the (verbal and) non-verbal cues that most of us rely on when building a relationship. So if you can’t rely on these cues, what can you do to make the online interaction successful and satisfying for all involved?
Aditi Rao, who has recently published an article about 21st Century Icebreakers gives a number of very practical and easy-to-use tips for “breaking the ice” in an online interaction. Her suggestions are simpler than you might imagine.
- For creative ways of getting to know each other: you can use Pinterest (ask everyone to take 10 pins to represent themselves) or ask the group to prepare a very short podcast about themselves. Another possibility is for everyone to introduce her or himself through a blog post. For younger or especially creative groups it may also be effective to ask everybody to create comic strips about themselves.
- For tools to collect feedback: Polleverywhere, Google Forms, Survey Monkey, and many other tools are available – for free!
- For interactive tools that keep everyone engaged, and to get dynamic feedback use Word Clouds, QR Codes, and Voki (a tool for creating speaking avatars). During the last months, participants of the Intercultural Link Learning Program have also had the chance to experience Voice Thread and Blackboard - two interactive programs that are helpful for conducting successful online learning activities.
For those with little experience conducting webinars, Cate Brubaker, an intercultural trainer who is experienced in delivering webinars, also shares some helpful tips:
- Attend enough webinars before you deliver your first own webinar.
- Practice, practice, practice with friends, test groups, or by recording your own webinar.
- Use a variety of strategies to deliver the content: pictures, graphs, polls, music, videos – whatever works best for you!
- Cooperate with another person for the facilitation of your session. This way, you’ll have more time to focus on the facilitation of your session.
- Choose a topic that you know a lot of people have questions about.
- Don’t think too much – just do it!
On her website SmallPlanetStudio, Cate Brubaker offers other material, free teleclasses, and ideas for how to successfully facilitate intercultural learning – online and offline. In the past few years, AFSers all over the world have been using these tools and materials to better support the interpersonal and intercultural learning connected to the life-changing experience of going abroad and hosting a young person from another culture. AFS Volunteers and Staff involved in the Intercultural Link Learning Program have participated in anumber of these online learning activities and have used many of the above mentioned tools.
When our work is rooted in interpersonal communication and in effectively and appropriately engaging with cultural differences, we have a lot to learn from online learning and can make the most of it by exploring the myriad tools and options becoming available each day. Tell us what online tools you’ve used to facilitate intercultural online learning!