Who are you?

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!

Bless this chick
Reasonably clever – lego avatars

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

13 thoughts on “Who are you?

  1. That is disturbing. I teach high school, so I expect that they would all have online social profiles, but 1st graders? That’s insane. This seems like a very cool lesson, and hopefully one that will stay with your kiddos for a long time so they will know how important it is to stay safe online. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the comment. It certainly is a little disturbing to have children so young with online profiles – they all want to be like older brother/sister or Mum and Dad.

  2. Thanks for sharing your work on avatars with your students. I teach in a prep to year 12 school and like you, am alarmed at the number of young students who are on facebook with their photos and unprotected profiles. As teachers we need to educate them, show them how to privatise their profiles and remind them of age restrictions on certain sites etc. The fact you have introduced and discussed avatars is wonderful and helps them make responsibe decisions in this digital world of ours.
    ps I really like your avatar. It looks great and is one that students would like to use as well.

    • Thanks for the comment Anne – I wish I could remember who tweeted about the grabbabeast site as I really liked it! The students loved quirky avatars last year and it was great to hear back from some students after the lesson that they’d changed their online picture to an avatar because they ‘thought they looked much cooler in cartoon’.

  3. I, too have been concerned by the number of young children with Facebook profiles and have had some very interesting discussions with students in the past. Some became very indignant when I suggested that maybe it would be better to wait until they were legitimately able to join the site. I like your idea of discussing avatars with students and then showing them some to make decisions about who they represent before creating their own. The idea that, as younger students, they need time to play with many avatars before settling on one more representative avatar makes good sense too. Thanks for a thought provoking post with some great practical suggestions.

    • Thanks for the comment Mrs S. I’ve had similar reactions from students when I point out Facebook’s age policy – most weren’t really aware of it as they’d just blindly ticked every box and agreed to anything they were asked when they first joined. In the end I came to the conclusion that I can’t stop them so need to educate them and avatars seemed a good avenue into that discussion.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience at using and creating avatars with your students. This activity also taught me the importance of teaching these skills to our students. I loved the idea of showing different avatars and talking about the person who possibly created them. Really moves the lesson to the next level. I will now be including that discussion in my avatar lessons when we head back.

  5. I teach 4th grade and we do use one site (Sumdog) that has the kids create their own avatar before using the site. The kids really enjoyed it. I haven’t done anything else with avatars yet – but your post is a good reminder (even though I did the avatar challenge).

    Also, I wonder…should I change my Avatar (from a befunky version of myself to more of a cartooned/buildmywildself one). Am I setting a good example if I’m using an avatar that looks like a photo?

    Thanks for getting me to think more on this!

    • Thanks for the comment Nancy. I often wonder about my online presence and how it should be represented. As an adult, it might be appropriate for me to have a photo so that people recognise me in the ‘real world’ when attending conferences, etc however adults aren’t the only ones who may see me online and I want to be setting an example to my students. Dilemmas!

      • I agree that it is a dilemma. I have gone with using a photo of something created by me so that I am modelling what I would like my students to do.

  6. You have hit upon my single greatest concern with message boards, blogs, wikis or really anything digital in regards to students: student misbehavior. I tried a message board a couple years ago and it quickly lead to students swearing and bullying each other. They were also trying to post inappropriate pictures, but of the violent and promiscuous nature.

    It is sad to see how young many of these kids are when they are introduced to such things. There seems to be no such thing as innocents or “childhood” anymore.

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