Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
MIAMI | Classrooms — especially during this pandemic year — are an ever-evolving gathering and learning space for teachers and students. But as long as learning continues to take place online, some teachers are flexing their interior-design muscles and creating Bitmoji classrooms.
“This is one area that allows for personalization of a virtual learning space. Usually in your classroom, you have posters, visuals, you have pieces that support your curriculum and also help to create the environment that you want between you and your students. This is a fun way to do that,” said Alishea Jurado, dean of Innovation and an Apple Teacher at Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami.
Immaculata-La Salle’s teachers are among several nationwide who have created Bitmoji virtual classrooms to add a more personal touch to their daily online interaction with students.
A Bitmoji is a personalized emoji, or cartoon-character avatar, created on the Bitmoji app. Originally developed by Bitstrips in 2007, Bitmoji became even more popular when Snap, Inc. (creators of Snapchat) bought the company in 2016. Since then, the avatars have appeared frequently across social media apps, in text messaging, web-based services like Google Chrome, and even work-oriented apps like Slack.
Google Slides and a Google Chrome browser extension can help create customized settings for the Bitmojis, which can later be integrated into platforms that schools are using to connect with students (Google Classroom, or Schoology). Classrooms can be stagnant, or objects in the Bitmoji classroom can be embedded with hyperlinks to guide students to class materials such as PDFs, additional reading, videos, and more.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing traditional brick-and-mortar schools to online platforms, Jurado believes that the Bitmoji classrooms will remain a way for teachers to reclaim the uniqueness of their classrooms even while teaching online.
“It says this is my virtual learning space and it’s how I want to be, and it looks like how I want it to be. It’s where I have a voice and can communicate to students, 'Hey, you’re not really seeing who I am. You’re not really getting the gist of who I am across the screen. But this is me,'” she said.
Jurado’s students can find her Bitmoji sitting behind a desk, pointing at a white board behind her that reads, “Dr. Jurado’s Room. We got this!” Above that, she’s got the logos of her college and university alma maters (University of Florida, University of Miami, and Lamar University). To the left, a combination of motivational quotes hangs on the wall, and to the right are five well-stocked bookshelves above a large sofa.
In James Rydborn’s Bitmoji classroom, along with contact information and a Zoom portal icon, students will find the Health Science Foundations teacher and STEAM Health Science Focus coordinator wearing athletic gear, with a few other sneakers added to his décor, as well as a tennis racquet and golf club (he’s the head coach for both sports at the school).
A framed quote in the Bitmoji classroom of Camille Wildenburg, the Fine Arts Department head, reads, “Creativity is not just something you think about. Creativity is something you do.” Her Bitmoji also includes the Mona Lisa and a painter’s palette.
Since 2012, the faculty at Immaculata-La Salle has worked in depth with tech and innovation. They regularly hold “campfires,” or small-group learning sessions,as part of the Innovation Department's in-house coaching program. This week, teachers who are interested will be learning how to make Bitmoji classrooms, as well as reviewing other tools, such as Peergrade.
But what they anticipate the most is the return of their students to the school.
“We miss them, but we want everyone on campus to be in the safest scenario possible,” said Jurado. “The campus is ready for their return.”