33 Opening Activities

The introductory module of an online course should contain at least one group activity that engages students with at least two of the following course elements: the instructor and peers; course goals, documents, and themes; and technology, platforms, or practices that students will need to use for the course.

Ideally, opening activities model formats or platforms that students will use for group discussions and interactive activities later in the course. This creates space and time for students to register for required accounts, reset passwords, learn new technologies, and ask questions in a low-risk setting. While opening activities are not typically graded, they offer an opportunity for you to explain where students will find essential information (such as instructions, deadlines, and rubrics) when they are formally engaging in these activities.

Inspirational minilessons

Engage students in a brief “real-life mystery” or case study that demonstrates how the course is applicable to the real world. Consider an escape room, Web quest, choose your own adventure (CYOA), or other interactive storytelling approach.

Simple introductions

The following activities, which involve students sharing something brief about themselves or their worldview, also serve as introductions to a technology, practice, or platform that students will use later in the course:

  • Photo safaris: Students contribute pictures taken from their world to a social media feed, Google Slides deck, discussion forum, Flipgrid, or wiki. Focus the exercise around a theme that is relevant to course content or process and be sure to ask for captions and comments. If the exercise takes place in a video discussion platform such as Flipgrid, students can upload their photos and leave video captions.
  • Video introductions: Students respond to prompts in a brief video recording. Having students hold up a sign or picture while they speak challenges them to consider the impact of mixing media in the same space and time.

Reflective practice

Ask students to question preconceived beliefs and values with regard to the course content or collaborative or online learning. Consider making the introductory activity consistent with the topics, themes, or formats of other integrated reflections. For example:

  • Pre-course knowledge check: Short, formative assessments can provide instructors with an understanding of their students’ baseline knowledge. Consider having students complete a concept map and then sharing it with the class through a video discussion. Pair with student action plans or use as a part of a pre- and post-course reflection.
  • Pre-course reflections: Have students examine their preconceived notions about the course or course content. They can share these with other students in an opening discussion activity or contribute anonymously to a poll, which can be shared with the class.
  • Personal learning objectives: Challenge students to identify several personal learning objectives for the course and collect them in a wiki. Consider adding a peer feedback or ranking system that would facilitate adding one or two of these learning objectives to the course learning objective list.

Syllabus-focused activities

Focus your first collaborative activity on the course syllabus and related content. Try to use platforms or formats your students will use for collaboration later in the course. For example:

  • Draft a participatory or “open” syllabus.
  • Debate and rank preferences for course topics or assignments.
  • Collaborative syllabus annotation: This collaborative activity works best with focus questions or prompts that encourage students to respond to one another.
  • Syllabus jigsaw: Student teams teach assigned portions of the syllabus to the rest of the class.
  • Syllabus speed dating: Students express and respond to one another’s aspirations, goals, concerns, or confusion about course materials, as presented in the syllabus.

Additional resources

Select the links to access guidelines and opening activity examples created and published by the following educators and institutions:


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