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Avatars and inservices

In a recent comment, Tracy asked for successful 2.0 teacher inservice ideas:

It has to be stuff that will appeal to their sense of personal fun – if I market it as something they have to learn for the classroom, they will never sign up to learn voluntarily. Your suggestions (and those from any other people reading this blog) would be much appreciated.

We did one that worked against the worst odds.  (It was, after all, the last week of school and most folks considered cleaning up their classrooms a far more compelling activity.) 

About one fifth of our faculty is already hooked on using Web 2.0 applications with learners, our task was to intrigue the others.

We first presented context for 2.0.  (Our wiki for the workshop is located here.) And because we wanted our teachers to be able to represent themselves in the activities to follow, we had them begin by creating avatars.

I thought the avatar actitivity would take 15 minutes.  I was wrong.

Avatars turned out to be a great hook. Teachers took 45 minutes perfecting their avatars. They explored; they were playful.  We took gallery walks.  The most serious of our faculty created the silliest avatars.  And we learned a little more about each other through our accessories.  Little secrets emerged.

Then we brainstormed.  After we discussed why we’d all want to use our avatars to represent our contributions to wikis and blogs and forums and nings, a psychology teacher asked, "What if we asked students to create an avatar to represent a particular condition and we had them analyze it?" An English teacher suggested students create avatars for literary characters. They might explain why the avatar represents the character in writing activities.  They might blog as their characters.

The next step was creating a wiki for a course, a unit, a teacher’s whole courseload. Teachers brought their avatars with them and began writing and organizing, migrating content they already had in word processing files and presentation files.  We used Wikispaces for teachers because it is easy to use and offers teachers ad-free sites.  Teachers loved the ease with which they could post Web content.

Later, we got to briefly introduce blogs, our new school ning, RSS, tagging. 

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Tracy P. says:

    Hi Joyce,

    Thanks for giving me some ideas! The avatar session sounds like it went very well – I’m so impressed that your staff was into doing pro-d during the last week of school.

    Designing avatars does sound like a great way to get people’s feet wet. I’m not sure my staff could handle more than that in one session (we’re still working on basics like getting everyone to figure out how to use the “Save As” function of programs to store data on a memory stick), but it would be a good starting/introduction point for Web 2.0 apps. When I talk about blogs, wikis, tagging and Nings, people look at me like I’ve sprouted several heads and am speaking in a different language. I am going to have to take a very gentle, gradual approach to introducing this stuff or people will just shut themselves down when I start talking. It will be a challenge, but I am determined that one day I will be able to say, “I work with a bunch of geeks”. Ha ha.

    I checked out your workshop wiki, also. Wow, was there every a lot of great stuff there! Thank you providing access to your amazing resources!

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