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 


  1. Ahhh Hocam - we share another pet peeve,

    Actually, rather than an avatar per se - I think it's just nice to see a "human face". 50% of teaching is all about connection (same with doctors) - and 49.9999% of that connection comes via the eyes and the smile ;-)


  2. Greetings HoCam! Thank you for taking time to read and comment Tony; yes, it really is a pet peeve that I struggle to understand. As you very well say, connecting is essential and if educators (in particular) are connecting with students and colleagues, how can it be so difficult to create an avatar rather than showing up as a bland, blank egghead?

    Additionally, not only do educators carry digital responsibility, but frankly, "connecting" with a dog face (for instance) isn't always cute - unless there is some possible mission behind the avatar. Whether serious or smiling, whether a cartoon or a real portrait/photo, I do think that everyone should use an avatar. It's 2013 - the internet is not really a "secret" any longer. Above all, educators who wish to have some degree of respectability, need to consider using an avatar in their networks.

  3. Thanks for your topic. This may seem like an insignificant subject, but it really is interesting and you bring up larger issues with social media and education. I use an LMS every day with students and have a photo with my profile. Up to this point, I have allowed students to choose whether they want to have pictures or not, but after reading your blog, I will likely make them required. I teach in a single gender school in which the boys wear uniforms - it's easy for them to begin to blend together. Including an avatar would bring some individuality to a venue where they may not think it "appropriate" to include a picture. I am now thinking about how the photos and graphics that ARE on the LMS get a reaction out of me, and how students who felt the most comfortable in past years have included a picture, and that more and more of them have done so as the school year went on.
    If I want them to feel at ease with the online portion of my course, then they should have a more full online presence that truly represents each of them. I'm interested to see how a seemingly simple thing like adding an avatar might affect this.

  4. Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts. I definitely agree with how giving students the opportunity of individuality may be positive for them. My students wear the traditional "abaya" (the black cloak typical of the Arabic Gulf) and yet their avatars express their own particular tastes and individual styles. It's also interesting to see how students change their avatars, either because they are becoming more confident in trying out new avatar tools or simply because they are maturing and feel the need to reflect that.

    I wish you all the best of success in your endeavours and hope your boys will have fun with their avatars!