Each semester, I want to begin with an introduction not only to the course, but also to the OpenLab, so that students have a sense of where they will be working. I ask them to choose an avatar, and to think carefully about how they represent them. In the past, I’ve incorporated into an assignment a question about an image that represents them, asking them to describe it and show how it depicts them, but also to think about how it might be misunderstood by someone else, how that image can be read differently than they intend.
What made this more effective this semester was starting one step back from there, asking students to look through the People section of the OpenLab and find an avatar that they wanted to think about. Then they had to write a comment about that avatar, how they understood what it represented. Only after writing could they look to see who the person was, what they study, etc. In staging the assignment this way, they had the opportunity to themselves misread someone’s avatar, which they could then apply to their own writing about how someone might misread their chosen visual representation.
I’d love to hear from others how you orient students to the OpenLab, if you incorporate it into assignments, and how you introduce the notion of thinking critically about how we represent ourselves online.