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Getting to Know Your Students: A Technology-Enhanced Twist

By Nicole Timbrell
 | Jan 27, 2017

thinglinkThe end of January marks the first week of the academic year for Australian children. All across the country, teachers and students are bracing themselves for the annual first week back of getting-to-know-you conversations. Although student-to-student and student-to-teacher discussions early on in the semester are necessary to build rapport and establish a classroom climate of mutual respect and understanding, the details shared in these conversations are typically lost when the lesson ends. Thankfully, the use of digital technology can enable some of these getting-to-know-you conversations to be captured, published, shared, and reflected upon throughout the school year as students develop and change.

I use getting-to-know-you activities that encourage students to work both collaboratively and individually, create and share visual representations both with and without technology, converse with and listen to one another, and represent ideas using visuals, words, and sounds.

Both of the following activities are designed for middle school students (ages 10–15) but could be adapted easily for older students. Please note each activity achieves similar outcomes, so teachers should choose only one to try with each class.

The illustrated interview

The illustrated interview was inspired by The New York Times series in which notable people sketch their responses to a brief questionnaire. You can access the entire series, but I recommend the interviews by Buzz Aldrin, Tavi Gevinson, Tim Burton, and Richard Branson as great examples for students. After viewing a few examples of these short videos with students, the activity runs as follows:

  1. A common set of getting-to-know-you questions is generated by the whole class, drawing on suggestions from both The New York Times Illustrated Interviews and the students’ own ideas.
    • Students are then organized into pairs, with each reciprocating as interviewer and interviewee.
      • The interviewer assigns the interviewee a list of 10 questions from the class set.
        • The interviewee selects five questions from the list and responds by drawing pictures on paper. These sketches are scanned, photographed, or filmed, and the digital files are returned to the interviewer.
          • The interviewer is then responsible for turning the sketched responses into a 60-second illustrated interview. Using video editing software, the interviewer adds relevant sound effects to each image (Sound Bible has free sound effects) and precedes each sketched response with a title slide encompassing the question posed.
            • The interviewers upload their completed illustrated interviews to YouTube (using the unlisted setting for greater privacy), and the films are then published to the class website for viewing by other students.
              • The culminating step is a screening of all interviews followed by a whole=class discussion. The teacher scaffolds reflective prompts to stimulate discussion such as I didn’t know that…, I found it interesting to learn that…, A question I have is…. The discussion sparks a reflection on what was discovered about their interviewee and themselves from the process of constructing the illustrated interviews and what they have learned about their fellow classmates from viewing the works. Through voicing or writing down their thoughts, students identify similarities and differences in values, interests, backgrounds, and personality to establish a climate of trust, understanding, and mutual respect within the class help.

              The hot spot identity collage

              The vital technology for this getting-to-know-you activity is ThingLink, a free online tool that enables the annotation of digital images via hot spots. When the cursor passes over a hot spot in ThingLink, a window appears with annotated text or a hyperlink. If you have not yet encountered this tool, you can view featured examples that provide an understanding of the many possibilities ThingLink presents in the classroom. The activity runs as follows:

              1. Individually, students create a visual representation of their identity in the form of a paper collage (or similar). They then create a digital copy of their work by scanning or photographing their collage.
                • Students are organized randomly into pairs. The identity collages serve as the stimulus for a conversation between the pair of students about their personalities, backgrounds, values, and personal interests.
                  • As they talk, students make notes, record quotes, and write down observations based on their partner’s discussion.
                    • Following the conversation, each student uploads his or her partner’s identity collage to ThingLink and strategically positions hot spots on the image to reveal quotations and snippets from the earlier conversation. The student further uncovers aspects of his or her partner’s identity that might otherwise be unnoticeable in the classroom.
                      • Once each ThingLink is completed and published, students can share their work via a URL. Alternatively, each ThingLink can generate an embedded code to be posted directly onto a class website.  
                        • The final step in this exercise is to encourage students to view the identity collages on ThingLink and run a follow-up reflection and whole-class discussion. The instructions for this step should mirror the instructions for the illustrated interview activity.

                        In addition to creating online spaces that build positive peer and teacher relationships, these technology-enhanced getting-to-know-you activities simultaneously enable the formative assessment of each student’s digital composition, listening, speaking, and visual representation skills very early in the school year. I challenge teachers to consider trying out one of these activities the next time they meet a new class of students. Who knows what you will learn?

                        Nicole Timbrell is the Head of Digital Learning & Australian Curriculum Coordinator in the Secondary School at the Australian International School, Singapore, where she also teaches English. Formerly, Nicole was a graduate student and a research assistant at the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education.

                        This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).



                        Leave a comment
                        1. Elmira G. | May 09, 2018
                        2. JosephArcher | Apr 24, 2017
                          I agree that student-to-teacher communication is important in class and digital technology will only be useful for efficient communication and these innovation improved becoming more acquainted with you exercises all the while empower the developmental evaluation of every student's desires to pay for paper academic year, tuning in, talking, and visual portrayal aptitudes ahead of schedule in the school year.
                        3. William Jack | Mar 18, 2017
                          Great post.
                        4. Kate Jamison | Jan 29, 2017
                          So timely/useful. I'm going to try thinglink. Thanks for posting.

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