Avatars are the small images that you often see alongside blog comments or on social networking sites. Sometimes they are a digital portrait, often they are cartoon representations. Children enjoy creating their own avatars and their use will encourage them to comment on their own school blogsite as well as others. They are also very useful to use from an e-safety point of view, highlighting the importance of anonymity online. Does it go without saying that children should never use digital photographs of themselves as avatars?
Here are a few examples of mine:
The way they work is quite simple: an avatar is associated with your email address and wherever you enter your email address in a comment on an avatar enabled blog your avatar will appear alongside the comment.
There are three prerequisites to using an avatar:
- You need an email address;
- Your image and email address need to be uploaded to the Gravatar website;
- Your own site needs to be avatar enabled.
Creating an avatar
Avatars can be created in a number of ways:
- Use an existing digital portrait or image (e.g a school crest, a piece of scanned artwork, a piece of digital artwork)
- Use an avatar creation tool. The Simpsons avatar generator is a popular one, as is Doppelme, although a search will reveal plenty of others – some of which are definitely not suitable for children. Note, most avatar sites require registration and login. For Doppelme I find the easiest way to use it is to register and create your avatar then right click on the image and save it as an image file on the hard-drive ready for the next step. The Simpsons generator has a “save image” option built in
Registering with Gravatar
Once you have created your avatar and saved it to your hard-drive as an image, you need to register with Gravatar.com in order for your avatar to be recognised by other websites and blogs. Gravatar stands for Globally Recognised Avatar and is a service used by lots of blogs and social networks. Simply register your email address and upload your chosen avatar image. If your class don’t have individual email addresses, why not register a class avatar or school avatar using a school crest or by holding a “design the class avatar” comp.
Note that Gravatar will require you to rate your Gravatar as G, PG, R or X. Assuming you are creating an avatar for use on school sites the avatar should always be rated as G and the content of your avatar should be suitable. Important note: your private life is up to you, but if you are registering any other type of avatar for private use DO NOT associate with it an email address that you use to comment on school blogs etc.
Enabling your blog to support Gravatar
Even if you don’t take this step, it’s still worth registering an avatar as more and more blogs and social networks are supporting Gravatar.
If you have a Creative Blogs site we have already installed the Gravatar software. All you need to do is switch Gravatar on for your class blog. Click “Settings” > “Discussion”, then scroll down to the bottom of the page. Here you will see the Gravatar options:
Simply choose “Show avatars”, then tick the avatar rating required (this will always be G for a school site) and choose a default avatar for visitors who have no avatar of their own.
If your blogsite doesn’t have the Gravatar options, you’ll need to refer to the support site for your blog software (if it’s WordPress, you’ll need the Gravatar plugin).
That’s all there is to it. Try with your own teacher email first and once you have figured out the technique let it loose on the children: they’ll have great fun creating their own avatars and will you can build in some valuable e-safety into the lesson, too.