Ice-breakers: tried and tested

It’s that time of year when new cohorts of students are getting to know you and getting to know each other. Here’s suggestions for a couple of ice-breaker activities:

1. Four “facts” about me: this is one I’ve used a lot over the years. Everyone (including yourself) is asked to introduce themselves and say four facts about themselves. However, one of the facts needs to be false, and everyone needs to guess which was the bogus information. Works best when you give the students a bit of time to think about it and tell them to make the lie plausible.

2. Human bingo: inspired by Julian Park’s session at a recent pedagogic forum, this year I tried something different. I created a 6×6 “bingo” grid of statements and the students had to try and complete as many lines on the board as possible in a set time by trying to find peers that fitted the given description. I included a few more rules:

(i) they could only have given person once on their board (although another tutor with a smaller group expanded this to allow two references to each person, which worked well)
(ii) they could include themselves (but only once)
(iii) to ensure conversation they needed to start by asking up to 3 questions “did you go to an olympic or paralympic event?”, “do you have a tattoo?”, etc but if they got three “no”s they could then ask the person to pick a category that was true about them. Depending if they were kind or devious they might pick an answer that completed a line or was no help whatsoever.

After the allocated time, the winner was the person who had the most completed lines of six (rows, columns or major diagonals). A small prize could be offered, but if it is make sure it can be shared for circumstances when there are more than one winner.

My bingo card is available here (as an editable word document), and is shown below. In a group of 35 students we failed to find anyone willing to admit to being vegetarian or knitting, but we did have someone who had been arrested (“though it was all a big mistake”).

JK Rowling and the Assessment Dilemma

JK Rowling’s first post-Potter novel

This is a thought-in-progress rather than a full-blown post. Whilst browsing around on the Amazon website last week I happened to notice that JK Rowling had a new novel “The Casual Vacancy” coming out. What struck me most was the low star-rating the book was apparently scoring… not least because it hadn’t actually been published yet.┬áCurious, I clicked onto the customer feedback to find out what was going on.

It quickly transpired that the panning the book was receiving had nothing to do with the written word. Instead Kindle-owners were venting their wrath about the fact that the ebook was retailing for more than the hardback. “too expensive”, “why did I buy a kindle”, “rip off”, “disgusted” cried the subject lines of the comments*.

Rather than rating the quality of Ms Rowling’s story, the intended focus of the feedback, the potential customers were using the only channel open to them to register a different complaint about.

This set me thinking about the kind of Module Assessment feedback Universities gather from students. If we haven’t provided them with appropriate mechanisms to raise issues about which they are dissatisfied, then there is a danger that the numeric module feedback we receive may actually mean something entirely different to the interpretation we later place upon it.

(* as it happens the feedback since the book was published has continued to be pretty rotten, but this doesn’t negate the original observation)