Share the story of your name

When I started this activity in my hybrid, freshman communication course I had already been doing a lot of activities to build community. Yet, I felt like the initial icebreaker just brushed the surface and left my students (and me!) with wanting to go a little deeper to get to know one another… Hence, the ‘birth’ of Share the Story of Your Name came to be.


My course is hybrid—about 40% is online and 60% is face-to-face. I have taken several semesters to hone a connected experience in this modality, but let’s be honest, a course is always a work in progress right? Particularly as we shift and change to best support the students that we serve.

Teaching a first-time freshman course that is required to graduate from the California State University can be tough, particularly because it is a course focused on public speaking… When I ask my students on the first day of class why the enrolled in the course, no one ever says “because I love to speak in public”, or “I want to learn how to speak in public”. This is the result every semester, year after year. Rather, in my early Getting to Know You Survey, about 95% of students confide that they have some level of fear speaking in public and are nervous/anxious/fearful of taking the course. So, in thinking about this context, my hope as an instructor is to create a brave space for students to practice their skills and make connections with their peers. I have found that these early connections not only help students engage with the course, but with one another that often continues beyond this one class. I have seen this happen many times where my previous students come back and visit and tell me that they made lifelong friends (or minimally, college lifelong friends) having met someone in my comm class.

The Activity

So, let’s get back to the Share the Story of Your Name activity…which by the way I conducted a formal study on this instructional strategy with positive results in terms of student belonging 🙂 On the first day of class (face-to-face), we spend about half of the 50-minute session with part one of our icebreaker that asks students to form a circle (we do this outdoors!) and go around the circle each sharing our name and something that we like that rhymes with or starts with same letter as our name, e.g., my name is Kim and I like kale. The next person then introduces the person before them and their ‘something’ and then introduces themself and the circle goes on. The last person in the circle may have a challenge remembering every person before them, but what is great is we help each other out.

Share the Story of Your Name is part two of the icebreaker that extends the in-class community building exercise to the online environment. Using VoiceThread to empower students’ voices, this activity is aimed at offering reflective time and opportunity to express one’s culture. I make a post about where my name came from and invite students to think about their own name, where it came from, what does it mean, how do they feel about it, and what aspect(s) would they like to share with their peers and instructor. They can choose any way to share, e.g., a personal story about their name, what they like about their name, where a nickname came from, etc. Each story is unique and helps students to connect to one another by listening to these stories.

What has followed is student speeches that will often reference either their own names or the name of a peer, but also speech topics that are deeply meaningful to each student. As we move into semester-long teams to support their learning and the social construction of knowledge, this starter icebreaker has clearly become a pivotal part of the students’ experience in terms of their sense of belonging.

In my study, findings indicated that 89% strongly agreed/agreed sense of belonging helped them learn:

  • Students felt a strong sense of belonging in this class 
  • Some shifts in grade distribution data compared to historical 
  • Student voice was powerful

One of the significant learning outcomes for me is that I feel more connected to my students, understand them more deeply, their lived experiences, and who they are. Every semester I am so fortunate to hear their voices and their stories through their speeches on topics that they are passionate about, particularly in their desire to change the world around them.

VoiceThread slide: “What’s in a Name By Any Other Name”

Humanizing Online Learning & Teaching in Times of Disruption

While I’d like to dive into this topic more because it is so critical (especially now), I am going to come back to it in the next week after our campus rolls out 48 remote instructional sessions to support all our faculty in moving to online.

For now, I want to share a resource that I would argue is essential as instructors move their instruction to a digital environment: Humanizing Online Learning & Teaching in Times of Disruption

Creating Equitable and Inclusive Learning Environments

One of the challenges (and opportunities!) of a Center for Teaching and Learning is to find its place within the landscape of various efforts and initiatives at their institution, their system, and within broader education communities. Last week, our Center joined other campus teams from each of the California State University (CSU) campuses for the CSU Institute for Teaching and Learning on Equitable Learning Environments. One of the most significant takeaways for me was the inspiration and deep sense of commitment from colleagues across our large system. This is the kind of inspiration and commitment that leads toward significant change. The outcomes of the retreat were to share Center programming and resources that focus on inclusive, equity-minded teaching through various approaches, frameworks and theories of change; and create capacity at each campus through strategic partnerships.

Our goal as a team was to engage in conversations and activities around Center programming from across the system in order to re-think and re-imagine the work within our own campus contexts. Each team created a “Dream Team Plan” that highlighted significant takeaways informing an action plan that would move this deep work forward.  We focused on our Center’s role within the campus equity landscape and how HSU can continue to move toward equitable outcomes that shift the learning paradigm in substantive ways. Given our goal of meeting educators where they are, we are taking a multi-faceted approach that respects their time and autonomy, while maximizing authentic opportunities to engage and reflect on their practice. We look to align Center programming with existing efforts through new and/or reconfigured approaches with the goal of creating systemic change within our campus learning environments.

Plan for Creating Equitable Outcomes and Shifting the Learning Paradigm

Our Plan for Creating Equitable Outcomes and Shifting the Learning Paradigm

Varying approaches to course design

It’s been an extraordinary week (and even weeks before) of our Course Design Institute. We approached course design/redesign with a very different set of frameworks than the more traditional course design sessions. Knowing that it is not realistic to do a complete course design/redesign in one day or even one week, we took a blended approach (part face-to-face and part online) but began with framing the context of the Institute with a  map.

Goals. Two bubbles that read: Stated Course Design Institute Goal, Teaching Goals Inventory goals (1-2 goals). Factors. Three bubbles that read: Our students, Course Data, Student, Instructor, Content Logic. Actions. One bubble that reads: Content, Pedagogy, Technology . Equals Your Action Plan.

Your Goals + Factors + Actions = Your Action Plan

The map of our course (re)design journey began with each educator’s Goals, including what they stated in their proposal, followed by their Teaching Goals Inventory (Angelo & Cross) goals. Then, in session we explored the various factors that inform our choices;  what we know about our students, what we’ve learned about any trends in our course data (dive into historical course success data), and considerations around the three logics/perspectives (student, instructor, content and all the assumptions and questions around these). From there, we focused on how their content, pedagogical, and technological choices inform/influence all of these factors. Finally, their Goals + Factors + Actions = Your Course Re(design) Action Plan. As a framework to guide thinking and action, we designed a Course Design “Action Plan” Template (sample included).

We provided grounding in the face-to-face session and followed with one-week of online, asynchronous exploration into how their goals, factors, and actions can provide a solid approach to a customized course design/redesign. It’s been amazing! More detail to come

Starting a Center for Teaching and Learning

As I reflect on the last two years, I have very positive feelings about the launch of our campus center. We started in an unusual way, somewhat of a grassroots.  Some of this is captured in a recent paper that I co-authored in PODSPEAKS, a publication of the pod network. The paper is a collection of ideas, advice, and experiences across a group of faculty developers who have been involved in Starting a Center for Teaching and Learning.  In a future post, I would like to expand on this journey as a way to inspire others, and reflect more on the deeper elements of how a Center evolves and becomes part (or not) of a campus context/culture.