The Cambrian Teaching and Learning Innovation Hub encourages faculty to share how one small change in how we approach teaching makes learning more impactful. This term one these meaningful changes I made was very small and easy: Adding Bitmojis.

Great idea
Great idea Bitmoji.

The Challenge

This semester I was teaching a group of students who were entering the term scared for a variety of reasons. I had a hunch that they were scared. The results of my adapted learner preferences survey confirmed it. They were scared of the research course as well as me.

It is critically important for learner success for my students to perceive me as an approachable educator. One lesson from my Master’s research was that an approachable educator is also critical to student safety in clinical settings. Often educators struggle to get honest feedback from their students. I know I have tried with varying levels of success in the past.

I always strive to be approachable by sharing with them my teaching philosophy, inviting questions, trying to be seen as a human and more. The last time I taught this group of learners in the first year one of them approached me to let me know that I still seemed intimidating. Now that I was teaching them again I needed to level up my approachability. Honesty, conducting the learner preferences survey, exit tickets, and clarity in week one of the term set the stage for approachability. However, I needed to maintain it.

My Inspiration

Last academic year I observed some Hub members using Bitmojis. I also visited Mel’s class in which she used Bitmojis. I thought they were engaging, but did not want to venture there myself just yet. I needed some time to think critically about using them.

Honestly, I was extremely hesitant to use them myself for two main reasons. One was the need to sign up for an account on my phone. I dislike having several accounts for things. The other was fear.

My Fear

The biggest barrier for me was a fear of being seen as unprofessional. Nurse educators can be judgemental. I am guilty of it and have experienced this judgement for the use of Facebook as well as gamification in the past (I don’t use Facebook anymore but I still use gamification). My gut reaction to using Bitmojis in my slides was that it would be seen as unprofessional and I would somehow experience negative consequences for doing it. As I am writing this I am now in a place where I can justify my use of Bitmojis and am comfortable with these differing opinions.

In nursing, we are taught strict professional boundaries and for good reasons. However, some of what we were taught is unfounded and can actually hinder the development of a therapeutic relationship with clients (in my case students). For example, as an undergraduate, I was told that I must always tie up my hair in academic settings in order to be professional. I do not follow that rule anymore, but I did when I was a new teacher. When it comes to Bitmojis I have not been told that they are not allowed. However, I have seen policy against the use of emojis at a different institution 😲. I think my fear of being judged for using Bitmojis is likely well-founded.

As undergraduates, we were marked on professional attire during academic presentations. It was nerve-wracking. As an educator, I have also had comments on my student evaluations about how I dress. When dressing professionally but in a flattering way I have had students make inappropriate comments (long skirts and no cleavage). Personally, I do think that professional attire is important in the classroom. As such, I make sure my Bitmojis are professionally dressed. There has been one exception – I used Halloween costumes in my presentation with a Haloween theme and one of them had a little cleavage.

A slide with a Bitmoji that is not professionally dressed.

Set-Up

Installing the app on my phone and creating an account was super easy. I was okay with the Bitmoji that the program created based on my picture, but my 10-year-old daughter made some improvements. She also picks my Bitmoji wardrobe for most weeks.

The automatic Bitmoji.

Installing the google chrome extension makes it super easy for me to drag and drop or copy and paste Bitmojis into anything from my computer. I can change the clothing on my phone and it automatically updates all the Bitmojis on the computer. Occasionally I need to refresh the search for the clothing to be updated.

Bitmoji Chrome Extension in Action.

The Trial

In week one I conducted the learner preferences survey and became aware that I needed to avoid my go-to colour for slides: Blue. I opted to design the slides using a black and white theme while I searched for better options. Because really needed some colour in them I decided to give Bitmojis a try.

A slide summarizing slide design considerations based on the learner preferences survey.
An example of a slide from my first use of Bitmojis.

The Result

My students and colleagues are now using them. I often get anecdotal comments about how they make my teaching more engaging. The Bitmoji love has spread in my circle. However, Bitmojis are not for everyone.

I'd rather not!
I’d rather not Bitmoji.

My son 18-year-old and one of my colleagues told me to never ever send them one of those again. So, they are not for everyone. As a result of that feedback, I asked my students what they thought after using them for the first time in week two of classes and they said they liked it.

I get a lot of honest feedback from students on a regular basis. This feedback comes from emails, in-person chats, and exit surveys. I feel like I know my learners better than ever before. Now, I am not saying that their honesty is solely because of Bitmojis, but I think that is a factor. I think that my honesty and humanness is why they are communicating with me.

Using Bitmojis has improved my workflow and time efficiency because I search for images on Pixabay or Unsplash less often. Anecdotally, I estimate saving hours each week.

How I use Them

Bitmojis are now a regular part of most of my classes, my Tuesday teaching tips, blog posts, and some emails. I also use them when texting colleagues. I try not to overuse them and still pay careful attention to what my Bitmoji is wearing.

Thank you, Hub team, for encouraging me to level up!

Levelled Up Pin.

NurseKillam

Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit http://nursekillam.com/.

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