This evening I followed a number of educators on Twitter who had followed me earlier. I like to review each individual and ascertain to which degree I will derive value from their microblogging.

There is one thing I find when I perform this task. I tend to prefer Twitter users who utilise a photograph of themselves as their Twitter avatar. I realise that the photograph may not be the genuine article but by and large I think the photographs used are “fair dinkum”, particularly after reviewing their web sites, etc.

From time to time I am followed by educators who do not utilise a photographs of themselves as an avatar. It may be a cartoon, an animal or something else. In some instance it may simply be a generic Twitter avatar. I am more reluctant to follow such individuals unless my search and review of the individual indicates that their tweets and background provide education value and are a good addition to that network that formulates my PLN.

As well, there are education organisations that also Tweet and more than likely they utilise a logo or icon as their Twitter avatar. This is quite okay however I think they should link to an about page via their profile that sets out the identities of the individual(s) responsible for the tweets. That will allow their followers to put a face to the tweets.

In short I like to link the tweet with a face. It is that human thing. Avatars that are photographs assist in adding a sense of personality, humanity and connectedness to the message.

I have had a variety of avatars and they are shown below. I once used a favourite photograph of myself as a young kid but I stopped using that when it occurred to me that as an education professional it would possibly be wiser to use a current photograph of myself.

Twitter avatars

My present image, with my wife Shao Ping, is duplicated across all my social media sites and for me it is WYSIWYG… “what you see is what you get”. As an educator, as a teacher, I feel that is the correct approach for myself to take if I am to blog and tweet professionally.

John and Shao Ping

Back in April 2009 I raised the issue of avatars and educators on Twitter. I follow a number of teachers, social commentators, relatives and organisations on Twitter and vice versa. There is a wide variety of avatars among those that I follow.

As I wrote back then on my old blog a number of teachers and educators that I follow do not utilise a personal photograph for their avatar. Their avatars range from comic book characters through to line drawings, second-life portraits, logos and pets. Some educators utilise images of themselves taken as children or even images of their own children.

At the time I raised this point on Twitter and it generated a conversation between Lyndon Sharp and myself. I reproduce the conversation below in chronological order top to bottom.

John Larkin: My avatar was once a favourite photo of me as a young kid but then I felt it was a little weird. Some might feel it is misleading. Thoughts?

Lyndon Sharp@john_larkin Twitter avatar choice: room here for PhD research project. Quirky? Cartoon? Provocative? School Yrbk approach? Best portrait?

John Larkin: @lyndons Initially I had no concern regarding the avatar of me as a youth but then felt it would possibly mislead.

John Larkin: @lyndons We teach our students to be wary of those they communicate with as they may not be what they seem. So, what about teacher avatars?

Lyndon Sharp@john_larkin Avatar choice *is* as yet unstudied. Competing interests: need fr privacy, desire fr openness & projection of self-image…

John Larkin: @lyndons this idea re avatar is interesting. What are we trying to project? One’s employment can have an impact.

Lyndon Sharp: @john_larkin I get th feeling people more experienced in Social Media tend to choose something other thn a photo-portrait: a small privacy?

John Larkin: @lyndons yes, self-employed, consultants, etc have more latitude on their choice.

Perhaps, as Lyndon suggests, this question or issue could be the focus of a research project. If a teacher chooses to blog or publish online professionally in an open manner should their profile avatar be a reasonably recent portrait photograph or not?

Some may even feel that a portrait photograph is simply more professional. At least a recent photograph.

It has been a couple of years since I had that conversation with Lyndon and I think it is timely I ask the following questions again.

What do you think? Is this too retrograde? Too conservative? Should educators consider the views of other potential stakeholders: employers, students, parents?

Perhaps an educator is blogging incognito. Their choice of avatar may not be an issue in this case. It is an interesting question. A possible conundrum. As Lyndon indicates there are competing interests. What is your position on this? Not an issue? Free country?

Addendum: Just added this link: The Joy of Tech: Field Guide To Social Media Avatars

PS. I updated the links over on my Twitter resource page tonight as well tonight.