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,
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!
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