The new semester is upon us, and as students sort out their schedules and shop around for textbooks, professors are hard at work too, preparing course material and running a spell check over the outline. But for one professor, the course content can wait until next week. For Dr. Josh Post, it’s all about the icebreaker.
“I remember when I was an undergrad,” said Post, a professor in UFV’s communications department, “I was always bored to tears with the icebreakers. I didn’t remember anyone’s names or ‘one thing about me’s,’ and they didn’t know mine.”
Post has experimented with different icebreakers over the years, but to little success. That all changed last September.
“I was putting together my new course, CMNS 285: Interpersonal Negotiations, and to be honest just procrastinating, watching TV. I watched an episode of the Australian spin-off of Survivor, and it all came together.”
“To be honest,” recounted student Stephanie Westman, “I was annoyed that after I’d gotten my laptop out and settled into my seat, he burst into the room and said to follow him to the Green.”
He outlined the rules: the class would be divided into tribes, compete in challenges, and vote each other off one by one.
“They could quit whenever they wanted,” Post assured The Cascade. “It was a pretty hot day, and a few didn’t want to be outside, so they dropped out right away. Their loss.”
He continued on, explaining how he settled on a prize. “The issue with icebreakers was always a lack of motivation, so I knew there had be a reward. I can’t do a massive cash prize, so why not offer the students what they wanted most?”
When he announced that the winner of icebreaker would also win an automatic A+ in the course, he suddenly had their undivided attention.
“He told us that whoever could win the game clearly didn’t need training in negotiations,” recounted Westman. “How could we not try our hardest after that? It was early enough that I could even resell my textbook.”
What followed was a series of intensely physical competitions that pitted students against one another, with the losing teams being forced to vote one of their own out. One by one, the numbers dwindled, with a few more quitting as the heat became too much for them. Emotions flared as the game wore on, with backstabbing and deception leaving more than one student in tears.
“I got some complaints, yeah,” admitted Post. “But I just laid out the rules, it was up to these students to decide how they wanted to treat each other.”
One student had to be pulled from the game due to heat exhaustion, but was compensated with a reserved seat in the classroom for the remainder of the semester.
In the end, a champion emerged.
“It was an honour,” said Angie Miller, the icebreaker’s winner. “I was up against some very tough competition, but I was overjoyed to get an A+ on my transcript for three hours of work.”
Word of Post’s icebreaker spread in the aftermath, and with CMNS 285 running again this winter, he’s been overjoyed at the response.
“Last time, the course had 29 people,” he said. “This semester, we’ve got it filled up to 36, with a waitlist almost that long again.”
While he does acknowledge that some students may drop out after the first class if they don’t win, he hopes that won’t be the case. For those that do come in focused on the icebreaker, though, he promises it won’t be easy.
“Of course I’ve ramped things up for the new semester. We’ll still be outside, but now it’s winter, which is going to be even less pleasant to be out in. I’m hoping for a good foot of snow on the ground, and then heavy rain on the day, myself.”
Those dozens of students competing in Post’s unique icebreaker aren’t going to be caught off-guard like last year’s, either.
“I’m coming to class in a heavy winter coat stuffed full of beef jerky,” admitted student Judd O’Hara. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win, man.”
While some students complained that the cutthroat nature of the icebreaker lead to lasting tensions throughout the semester between classmates, Post said the resentment also led to more intense competition later in the semester, as students tried to outdo their newly-formed rivals.