Some students strive to project themselves as if they were part of a Second Life game, operating in their very own 3D virtual world where imagination is paramount and you can play solo or with friends. In the game, every place is created by the community, sharing similar passions and interests in self discovery. Students may view the online classroom as a place to introduce their avatar or virtual selves.
Why do some students use an avatar to represent themselves instead of a real image? Is an avatar some sort of electronic disguise? Perhaps they are creating a new identity in the course and can embrace the freedom of being whomever they wish because they aren’t sitting next to their classmates in a room or walking with them down a crowded hallway. Do they want to preserve separate identities in real life and online?
Online pseudonyms can allow users to build reputations inside communities and across different online platforms. It is a delicate balance between expressing themselves behind a protective screen while attaching their own names to their own thinking. Rey Junco, a faculty member at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, talks about “disinhibition,” or the idea that once a student is behind a computer screen, he may feel more free to do things he normally would feel inhibited doing. However, this perception of anonymity and can be a positive factor for online interactions. For example, shy students can often make personal connections online that translate to better communication off-line, building confidence in an online setting.
One of my favorite assignments is when students first introduce themselves and comment on one another’s posts. Here is a list of writing prompts for this assignment:
- What is your name or name you prefer?
- What is your favorite website? Why?
- What sparks your curiosity? In other words, if you could choose any subject, what would you like to research over the next several weeks?
- What are you reading now? A newspaper, magazine, novel, scholarly journal, screenplay, poem, newsletter or other? What do you like about this text? Please provide a title or titles of what you are reading.
- What is one challenge you face while writing? How do you think you can overcome this challenge?
- Please post a picture or visual representation of yourself.Follow the College of DuPage Student Code of Conduct when posting information about yourself or commenting on other students’ posts. The Student Code of Conduct from Board Policy 5715 is outlined in the College of DuPage Catalog.
And here is an example of a student who included an avatar of a prince and dragon along with his response to the assignment:
“Hey everyone. My friends call me all sorts of names so it’s hard to decide which one I like; Albie, Albus, Albatron, Albatross. My favorite website is IMGUR. Its the perfect time killer and there is always funny stuff to put a smile on my face. The number one things sparking my curiosity right now are tabletop games and dungeons and dragons, so I suppose researching how Dungeons and Dragons started or maybe the effect it has had over time sounds pretty fun. I currently read the New York Times on a regular basis to stay up to date along with listening to NPR and a few podcasts. I value being informed from multiple sources on the going ons of the world and feel that it is important for everyone to do the same. When i’m writing the biggest challenge I face is grammatical errors, I can write up a storm and keep going without distraction, but I rarely practice good proofreading and wind up getting marks off for spelling and grammar errors. Can I say that? Well, I just did. Looking forward to the class!”