Peer Communication: Utilizing Digital Avatars for Student Collaboration

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

3.3 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in Persisting to Support Students
Teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning, drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies.

Many students struggle in the realm of presenting and communicating with their peers. There are many ways to help these struggling learners so that they are not always confronted with standing in front of the classroom or collaborating in constructive group activities. The utilization of digital technology may help more introverted learners. When evaluating ways elementary students can use classroom digital resources for better peer communication and collaboration, I immediately considered resources such as blog sites, social networking sites, Google Docs, and computer games. While these can all be excellent tools, there may be other creative ways to engage students in social learning. One resource that I have never seen utilized in the elementary classroom is digital avatars.

Standard 2 as outlined by the 2007 ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS•T) and Performance Indicators for Teachers (2008) is as follows:

  1. Communication and collaboration
    Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

    a. Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media
    b. Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats
    c. Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures
    d. Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems (ISTE standards for students, 2007, p.1)

Digital avatars enable students to create virtual characters that represent themselves, allowing students to express reflections of their own learning in creative ways. This is also an excellent resource to provide to students that are more introverted. Cicconi (2014) states, “Findings suggest that use of virtual worlds in communicating and collaborating increased student confidence and willingness to share one’s thoughts and work” (p. 60). Cicconi further conveys that children that are typically not interested in working with others or that have cognitive limitations may be more inclined to do so if they are provided with online resources. While digital avatars won’t always solve these problems, they are another free resource that can be utilized to help diversify student learning. Moreover, digital avatars can be utilized in online forums to allow students to communicate with others outside the classroom, including collaboration with other students outside of the school or community.

Voki is a web-based program that allows students to create digital avatars and utilize these characters for presentations. As shown in Figure 1, students can create a custom avatar by selecting a profile, modifying clothing, hair, skin color, and other features. The avatars can also be given audio voices that can be prerecorded.

voki2

Figure 1: Web-based program to create an online avatar (Voki avatar, 2016).

Students can also use avatars for presentations as shown in Figure 2. The presentation format is similar to a PowerPoint presentation and Voki avatars can be utilized to describe the content displayed.

voki3

Figure 2: Web-based program to create a digital presentation utilizing a digital avatar (Voki avatar, 2016).

While there are benefits to this technology and lesson planning ideas on the Voki website, these avatars can also be utilized across learning outside the online platform. For example, avatars could be printed and utilized for other classroom activities. Completed avatars could be laminated, cut out, and posted around the room. Perhaps they could be used for classroom jobs. Classroom assignments are also sometimes posted in the halls of the school. Perhaps a student avatar could be displayed next to completed work representing that individual. The mere creation and display of these characters can help enact student conversations and socialization. They may also detract from insecurities from having actual photographs displayed, something many adults even struggle with.

As referenced in the ISTE 2007 standards, students can use this digital media to work collaboratively and communicate ideas across various platforms. Avatars can be used in online forums to collaborate across large distances but also may be used solely in the classroom environment. There are many ways to provide students with resources to engage in collaborative communication and learning; digital avatars are a resource that may grow in popularity as they may help students that struggle with collaborative work. While presentations, group interactions, and teamwork are all skills that are beneficial to student learning, it is also ideal to provide other collaborative activities to further diversify opportunities for peer collaboration. Utilization of newer technology can help engage students in their learning while also providing newer resources that may enable struggling students to thrive.

References:

Cicconi, M. (2014). Vygotsky meets technology: A reinvention of Collaboration in the early childhood mathematics classroom. Early Childhood Education Journal, 42, 57-65. doi: 10.1007/s10643-013-0582-9

ISTE standards for students (2007). International Society for Technology Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-students

Voki avatar. (2016). [Voki avatar web-based educational program]. Oddcast Inc. Retrieved from http://www.voki.com/site/create

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2 thoughts on “Peer Communication: Utilizing Digital Avatars for Student Collaboration

  1. This is a great application of ISTE Standard 2 (as I humbly understand it). Your idea that online avatars would help students communicate their personality more is supported by Lampinen’s (2013) observations that online blogging helped her quieter students engage more in class. I think this exercise would be fun for middle and high school students too.

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  2. Great post. Using digital avatars in the classroom sounds like a great way to help struggling learners gain confidence in their technology skills. Most elementary school students would probably be so engaged in creating their avatars that they would not even realize that they were learning.

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