21 September 2013

Who are you? Where is your Avatar?

If asked whether I have a pet peeve in social/learning networks, then my answer is YES! I do.

As an educator, I cannot understand how teachers (and not only of course) shy away from using an avatar in their networks. I happen to manage a fast-growing group on LinkedIn, one that is used by educators for educators.  One characteristic that I constantly see, is how teachers will sign up, yet will have no avatar. Not even the face of a dog, cat or sparrow for that matter, is used to represent them. 

On the one hand, I may understand how individuals think that by avoiding the use of an avatar they will remain "incognito" online (do people still believe that in 2013?!) and therefore "safe" to troll perhaps (is that what motivates individuals to join professional networks??!)  On the other hand, this begs the question - what example are these educators giving to their students?

One of the first tasks I give my students when they join a LMS is to upload an avatar representing themselves. Creating an avatar is important in my context - I happen to work with female students who often are not socially allowed to display their faces in public, let alone online. By giving them a choice of avatar makers, I am giving them digital choices of learning. One needs to read the screen and instructions to make an avatar; one may play around with the features until one is satisfied with the outcome.  For the teacher who uses a LMS where students may upload an avatar, whether they (students) use their own image or a created avatar, this helps the teacher to locate a particular student quickly in a list of names, as well as learning a little bit more about that student and his/her individual quirkiness and individuality. 

The Great Gatsby  offers learners both male and female avatars, with choices ranging from skin colour to accessories. 

You can then decide on how you want your avatar represented - as you can see from the image on the left. Learners can also choose the background they want for their avatar. 

It is by setting examples to students, by modelling learning, by showing how digital literacies are put into practice, that students learn. Creating an avatar is fun and for many, is a learning opportunity which then helps them to better read instructions online (e.g. when signing up and using digital tools). 

iMade Face  is yet another free avatar maker,
free and easy to use on iPads.

And please, any educator who may stumble across this post: do add an avatar to your online presence online. Make it human, humourous, make it visible to students and colleagues. It really does make a difference to your online community.

End of rant!

Further suggestions:

Storytelling and Avatars

Avatars for You!

Avatar Me

Dobbel Me!

Natural Movements

Digital Delights - Avatars, Virtual Worlds, Gamification 

Inquiry as Learning - An Environmental Example

Increasingly, my daily challenge in classrooms is how to foster inquiry as a way of learning. As I face rows of faces waiting to perform a task, answer a question, play a game, I wonder how long it will take before students are ready to inquire, to demand alternatives to given realities, to offer creative solutions to problems which affect their daily lives. 

As I have often pointed out, environmental topics are usually common in educational syllabi - safe and globally significant, they offer learners the opportunity to think through problems which are both local and global.  Only this past week I have come across articles both nationally and internationally, pointing out how
 the politics water, for instance,  will be determining in coming years - an issue which has been constantly mentioned for the past 20 years or more.

Living in the desert, where rainfall is sparse and water consumption is high, this is definitely a topic I don't take lightly.  It is also a topic which affects us all, no matter where one lives. 

"Being literate in the information age involves the ability to find meaning in the vast barrage of diverse messages that form our learning environment. Information literacy involves being able not only to locate information, but also to interpret it within the context of our real-life experiences. Information literacy is the ability to use information meaningfully in all aspects of our daily lives. (Stripling 1999, p.6)"

Inquiry learning implies interpreting information, making information meaningful to one's context.

Asking questions, hypothesising, investigating, constructing meaning and sharing with others are critical skills which need to be developed while learning. 

There is a wide offer of environmental sites, offering information, games and a range of activities, while at the same time, especially for those teaching with iPads, an equally rich range of apps to choose from, which offer learners the opportunity to express their stories and share ideas and solutions,  in regard to issues related to the environment. 

As points of inquiry, the following diagram offers a clearer approach of implementation:

Some sites on the environment worth exploring: 

What is an ecological footprint? 

Into the Outdoors 

The Habitable Planet 

What is a Catchment?

The Bio Cube , which is a great tool to use for biographies, may also be used for science projects, when students think about the environment and present solutions. If projects are not completed in class, ReadWriteThink also offers a solution when learners are working with interactives:

Connecting, wondering, investigating, constructing, expressing, reflecting: key words in the messy, chaotic learning process. 

Key concepts as well to foster a stronger learning inquiry frame of mind in our learners today. 

How do you foster inquiry learning in your classrooms? 

Further suggestions and references: