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Why use an Avatar?

Learning to be an active and responsible digital citizen is like learning to swim. Immersion in water is potentially life-threatening, yet swimming lessons are part of most young children’s weekly routine. Indeed it is the risky nature of immersion in water that drives the need to develop competence in water safety early in a child’s life.

No parent would consider engaging a swimming instructor who has no interest or ability in swimming, who tells the child only what not to do and never lets them learn in a real pool. Likewise, we cannot expect children to learn digital citizenship without opportunities to engage with real online tools.

Schools must provide students with access to a variety of Web 2.0 tools in order to develop necessary skills. Jukes (2008, p. 38) points out that the “nasty stuff” on the web is “vastly overstated”. Still, students must be equipped to engage safely in online activity and to carefully manage their online identity. One of the first steps for students is to create an avatar – a visual representation of themselves that helps protect their privacy whilst providing an identity online. This Grapevine page is devoted to harvesting “Avatar Creation” resources suitable for use in the primary school.

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Saving a Completed Avatar

With each link below, you’ll see an avatar I’ve made for myself using the tool. Many sites don’t provide a convenient “download this avatar” button but don’t forget, you can always make a screenshot. Here’s how:

  • Mac: use Shift + Command + 4 then click hold and drag to draw a box around the area you wish to capture. If you have your sound turned up, you’ll hear a simulated camera shutter sound to confirm the screenshot was captured. A .png image file will be automatically saved to your desktop. Incidentally, Shift + Command + 3 takes a shot of the entire screen (just in case you ever need that option).
  • Windows: Use Alt + PrintScreen to copy the active Window to the clipboard. Then you’ll have to paste it somewhere, like Paint, and crop then Save. It’s not quite as straightforward on Windows (no comment!) and I believe there is now a “Snipping Tool” application you can use so there are more options. As I’m no longer a Windows user, you’d be better off reading about it here.

The Main Event: Avatar Harvest

Build Your Wild Self – This one is absolutely beautiful. Made with young children in mind – visually appealing and a very intuitive interface. Children pick animal parts to add to their avatar and they end up with a profile of a brand new creature, complete with description!

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 10.40.24 PM

Avatar Face Maker – This one is a favourite with our middle primary students. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed some very unsavoury advertising in the side bar during the last few visits, so be warned. A very smooth interface with an infinite variety of features and the result is head only so very suitable to school LMS profiles.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 10.53.13 PM

Create-a-Monster – A very schmick site indeed. Smoothly animated and very fast to load. Anyone familiar with Monsters Inc (and who isn’t???) will love this one. Students choose a monster, add features and customise colours. They enter a first name and initial to name their monster and an ID card is generated a la Monsters Inc University (image on the right). Take a screenshot prior to that point and you have a usable avatar (image on the left).

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 11.36.27 PMToonix – A small warning before you have more than 5 children hitting this site simultaneously – have them turn their speakers down! Or look for the “sound-off’ button in the bottom right of the screen. This one’s still in beta and  I find it very slow to load but the characters are very appealing and there are loads of options to personalise. The occasional surprise animation certainly entertains the young users. No ads either. (Always good.) Take a screenshot before hitting “next” to avoid signing up.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 11.51.10 PM

Make a Mii – Fans of Wii Sports may like this one. No ads but I got stuck with the clicky cursor a few times. Use the arrows on the right to move features around the face.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 11.56.46 PM

Sonic the Hedgehog – There’s nothing like a good Nintendo character to bring popular game culture into online learning spaces! Create an avatar based on one of my favourites. The interface is a little clunky and the backgrounds and features are limited, but there’s no nasty advertising to contend with at this site.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 11.26.46 PM

Voki – This one’s animated which may render it unsuitable avatar for many online profiles. Still, it’s an avatar, and a fun way for students to communicate brief ideas or introduce a topic. The animations are embeddable so they make a great interactive ‘Welcome to my page’. Notice how the eyes follow your cursor around the screen…? Click the play button to hear the little guy speak to you.

Tellagami – My own Tellagami can speak for herself. Click the thumbnail below to see her online. It’s a little confusing as she’s promoting a different app entirely, but you’ll see the potential. Students could use Tellagami to communicate anything at all. They design their avatar, add a background and then type or record the content. Tellagamis can only be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Email or SMS.

Tellagami sample

Tellagami sample

For some added inspiration, check out how Paul Hamilton used iMovie and Twitter to harvest a collection of Tellagamis which spread the message about educational technologies in schools:

Could you possible want MORE?

Some of the sites in these collections are more suited to older users. Just be careful to check each one site before you let the kids loose, lest you have too many signing up for online casinos or to meet singles in their area…!

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Featured Image: “Avatar Wallpaper” [CC BY-SA 2.0] by Rego Korosi on Flickr and the makers of Avatar.

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