Task four of the teacher’s blogging challenge and one that I have a lot of connection with. Introducing the idea of avatars to my Grade 5/6 students last year was one of my highlights of the year. As I was getting to grips with the idea of being an ICT teacher, various conversations I had with my students made it obvious that most used different forms of online social networking. Disturbingly, most also used their own photos to identify their online profile. This conversation wasn’t just limited to Grade 5/6 students either, with the eye opening discovery that I had students as young as Grade 1 with facebook profiles, complete with smiling, happy pictures. Despite my growing acceptance of and immersion in social media, it still unsettles me to hear of 7 year olds posting their pictures for the world to see. For me, it’s not about whether or not that’s appropriate, it’s about them doing something without being able to fully weigh up any implications.
With all that in mind, I introduced the topic of avatars. It was interesting that, while the Grade 5/6 students all knew what they were, none of them had actually thought about how they could be used online. I showed them a few different avatar sites and we discussed why we might use them and also their representative nature. I knew that my boys would instantly put guns and other weapons in their avatar’s hands and that some girls would dress their avatar provocatively. It was an interesting discussion that ensued where I showed them some avatars and asked them to tell me about the person they thought made it. An avatar covered in tattoos was apparently ‘made by a biker, a really tough guy’ according to one Grade 5 boy. It raised two ideas – firstly, that even if the picture wasn’t of you, it still represented you and people could still form opinions and ideas about who you were through your avatar. Secondly, it reinforced the idea that, online, people can be anything and we need to constantly consider who we’re interacting with, regardlesss of what their photo or avatar looks like. What started as a simple lesson introduction turned into a lengthy and valuable discussion!
The outcome of all of this was that the students each created several avatars which could be used in varying contexts according to the image they wanted to portray. With older students/adults, I would talk about a consistent online presence but, at this level, I just wanted them to explore and experiment. I’ve put the links to those used below, some of which contained vaguely inappropriate additions to the avatars which provoked lots of giggles but further discussions. One student asked why didn’t I block the avatar with guns if I’d rather they didn’t use it? My reply was that I was trying to teach them skills that could be used beyond the four walls of the computer lab and, when they got home to play with it, they would find and need to deal with such things independently. But I’ll leave such decisions up to you – enjoy!
The avatar created below is from a new website discovered yesterday through the fantastic PLN on Twitter (sorry, I can’t remember who it was so I can’t give them credit!) – www.grabbabeast.com