Avatar project

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Remote learning at your school/Pre-K center is not working very well. Attendance at remote learning sessions is spotty and very low for some students. If students attend, some often only share a black screen or are not engaged. Besides, many students show inappropriate behavior during virtual meetings. Furthermore, homework and assignments are often submitted after late, incomplete or missing at all. The school’s administration has expressed its concern about the “learning loss” and how students will do at future state tests.

The school has organized an “all-stakeholders” virtual meeting consisting of the school’s administration, the teachers, and the parents. The meeting’s purpose is to address these issues and work collaboratively on a solution. Everyone can sign-up for 2 minutes of speaking time and you have decided to use this opportunity to speak at this meeting.

What will YOUR AVATAR say at this meeting?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. Why the Avatar project?
I have done this project in the past, and it has always been a very interesting learning experience for the students. It is slightly different from what students are typically asked to do and write about at college, but I think this is a good thing. The project will help you to experience a different approach toward learning and understanding educational issues. I hope it will help you to better understand the real problems of the educational system and what these problems mean for real people.
Why do I think like this? Very often, we discuss educational issues in a very abstract way, and it is difficult for students (or professionals) to really understand the consequences. Just a few examples: These days, you hear quite often that the so-called “bad” teachers need to be laid off and/or that “failing” schools need to be closed. But how does it feel if you are one of these “bad teachers” (or if it is a close friend or a colleague of you)? What does it mean for you as a person when you work at a school that is called “failing?” Or, if you are a parent and your children are going to such a school? Or you are one of these children? Or another example: What does it mean if you show “zero tolerance”? For a principle, a teacher, a parent, or a child? If you are the parent of a bully? Or the parent of a victim? What are the consequences? Or what does the push for academics, to be “college and career ready,” mean for children and their parents?

These are just examples, but you will write about such issues in this project. I am also planning to include current issues such as the pandemic & remote learning, or questions of inequality.
However, why do I want to go beyond regular abstract and rational discussions? Typically, emotions and feelings aren’t valued in higher education. Higher education (or learning at all) is all about being rational, understanding the problem; it is about knowledge, but not emotions. However, by arguing this way, we are limiting our learning experiences. Emotional responses are a vital part of the overall learning process, and we should value them.
Thus, I believe that it can be an important and enlightening learning experience to “jump into the shoes” of another person. By creating this project, I want to construct a place where conflicts, educational ideas and thoughts, reform movements and their consequences are not abstract concepts to be examined and analyzed as an academic exercise, but a personal and emotional encounter. The idea is to make teaching, education, and learning real to you. It shall help you to understand and feel how other “stakeholders” (such as principals, teachers, or parents) think about educational problems and what they mean for them.

II. How is the project working?

1. The Avatar
The first step is to “give birth” to your avatar. Today, you will receive an e-mail with some information about your avatar. I played the lottery, so your avatar information is random! The information includes: gender, age, occupation, and if you are a parent, I will let you know how many children you have. And, you have to work in a setting that includes a Pre-k class or a kindergarten class (this is your choice). That’s all.
Apart from that, you have the freedom to create your own avatar identity: If you want, you can talk about your private life: are you married, divorced, how many children? Your race, hobbies, interests, or the school you are working at: public, private, charter, how many children and classes? And, if you are working in Pre-K or Kindergarten: What approach do you follow: Montessori, Reggio Emilia, High Scope, etc.? You can, of course, talk about everything else you want to let us know, such as: How long are you working at the school or in the field of education? Is it your first year at this school? Are you a veteran? Are you a member of the union? Are you interested in and fighting for reforms? Are you disenchanted by the educational field and your profession? Are you progressive or traditional? How do you see your role? Or, in the current situation, what do you think about how we are handling the pandemic? If you are a parent, think about the additional aspects: Are you involved in the school? What do you think about your school? Are you content? What is your occupation, how much are you involved in the education of your children? What do you think about the field of education right now etc.?
The only rules are: You need to work in early childhood education (Pre-K or kindergarten), or your children are going to such an institution, and you can’t die or change your avatar identity! But you could get fired…

2. How are the posts working?
After you have received the mail, please think about your avatar identity. If you want to swap your identity, write me an e-mail (only to me, not the whole class). This process will end next Friday evening (02/05). Afterward, you have to provide me and only me with your avatar’s name, so that I know your identity. I will be the only one who knows your identity. During the semester, you write a weekly or bi-weekly journal entry under the name of your avatar. The discussion can be found in the Avatar section. The entries will be anonymous and your fellow students will only know the name of your avatar. Thus, you can occupy controversial standpoints that are uncomfortable for you.
You have to submit your post via the blackboard discussion section. All posts will be moderated by me, so I can check them before they get published. I will only ensure that the posts are anonymous, but I won’t censor the content of your posts.
You have then time to prepare your first post until Sunday (02/07). In your first entry, please present yourself as your avatar. You will write in a personal style in a first-person narrative. I really want you to try to speak with the voice of your avatar. Thereby, your entries should be different if you are a principal or a parent. Try to find an appropriate voice.
For the rest of the semester, you will have to write 5-6 journal entries as your avatar based on the questions and materials I provided. The topics are based on our course materials and current issues. We will have already touched on these topics or will do later, so you don’t have to read additional materials, maybe a short newspaper article or something like this. You will have 7-10 days to write your post.

3. Expectations
How long should your post be?
I don’t require a specific length. I think 500 words (1½ pages) are reasonable. However, especially in the beginning, I don’t expect you to write a very long post. Write as much as you want. In the past, students tend to write very long entries after they really began to identify with their avatar, so we will see how it works. You can always write as much as you want, but you should take it seriously! I will respond to your posts as myself, with my own voice, in the same way as I would react if I would meet/talk to your avatar.

If you want to respond to a post, feel free to do it, but I don’t expect it at this point. I think it would be great if you would respond to at least one post per week. Again, you should respond as your avatar! Maybe I will create groups (I am still thinking about that) so that you can talk to your group members.

What am I expecting?
This project is supposed to be a creative and innovative one. I don’t know any colleague at Mercy College who has done something similar but presented the idea at various conferences, and colleagues find it very innovative. Still, we are entering uncharted waters! It will be a challenge and kind of adventure for all of us!
What do I want you do write? There are no right or wrong answers, no good or bad posts, not only one way how to solve this assignment. Be creative and bring your avatar to life! You can write whatever you want and feel like your avatar. But I am not interested in YOUR personal opinion! I want that you put yourself in the position of your avatar. THINK AS YOUR AVATAR – which is a challenge! For example: If your avatar is a principle, maybe he is thinking about firing teachers differently as you in real life (maybe because you are a teacher). That’s the purpose of the whole endeavor! Try to understand how other people are thinking about a problem and what it means for them. Try to understand what your avatar is thinking about the problem! And you can be emotional, that’s absolutely fine and even the goal of the project. I don’t want you to do research, say what your avatar is thinking about it.

I think you got a lot of information today. Take your time and think about this project. As said, if you have any questions, please let me know! We will work on this together! It is supposed to be fund and something creative!

For this week: Have fun getting to know your avatar!

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