wasting bandwidth since 1999

This Isn’t Instructional Technology Either

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Ok, for this rant I’ll probably get some pushback from friends, colleagues, and others, but…

I really don’t get the excitement around Bitmoji1 Classrooms.

I’ve watched some videos about how to create them, read some blog posts extolling their virtues, and followed a few Twitter discussions/arguments between supporters and detractors. EdWeek even tried to explain “why teachers are buzzing about them“. None of it helped.

In thousands of posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, teachers are sharing the classrooms they’ve built. Using the Bitmoji app to create their avatars, and other tools like Google or Canva to build the classroom backdrop, they’re making welcoming spaces, complete with colorful rugs and posters, that can serve as a cozy home base for their classes. Students can move through the spaces virtually, clicking on a bookshelf image to get a reading assignment, for instance, or on a whiteboard to follow a link to read a science document.

Oh, I completely understand a desire to decorate the classroom, physical or virtual. I was never very good at it – put some posters on the wall and I was good to go. But I certainly applaud my colleagues with the time and talent to make their spaces look pretty.

However, when it comes to all the hype around this particular decorating system, at this particular time, I have a couple of concerns.

One is the amount of time this must be taking. Not necessarily for those who are evangelizing the concept, who are likely more tech savvy than most of their contemporaries.

But what about the many teachers who are being pushed into learning this new-to-them technology on top of everything else being required of them in order to prepare for teaching online this fall? In addition to the peer pressure, there seems to be a fair number principals who are mandating staff training for making virtual spaces look fancy.

My second, and greater, concern is that too many teachers mistakenly believe that learning to build a Bitmoji Classroom is of more value than just a fun way to decorate a digital classroom. No matter how many digital tools are involved in the process, this is not instructional technology and does little to improve student learning.

As I’ve ranted previously around here, instructional technology is anything that can be used directly by students to enhance and extend their learning. The tools should be in the hands of and largely under the control of kids. The LMS you’re decorating certainly doesn’t qualify any more than the Bitmoji and drawing apps used to create these virtual embellishments.

Although I’ve seen some advocates claim that building a Bitmoji Classroom is related to “design thinking”, it is not. Design thinking is a far more complex process than learning to use digital drawing tools. One that begins with a problem to be addressed.

Anyway, in the end, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to dress up your virtual classroom. I can see how an embellished interface might be more compelling for students, providing a little more motivation to interact with it.

It’s just important to put Bitmojis and similar related digital fluff into their proper context. Particularly during these times of great pressure on teachers, it’s important to  use the limited time and effort you have available to better meet the learning needs of the kids.


The picture accompanying this post really has nothing to do with the topic. And my limited and feeble attempts at creating a Bitmoji are not suitable for public viewing.

1. It should be noted that Bitmoji is not a generic term. It’s actually a brand owned by Snapchat. So, are we comfortable encouraging everyone to submit their information to yet another private, for-profit, social media company? Just asking.

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8 Comments

  1. Douglas Johnson

    The primary reason I started working with technology in the early 80s was because it was just so damn much FUN! By the time I retired last year, the fun had pretty much been overshadowed by security, accountability, etc. Not a big Bitmoji fan myself (seems like the women in my life enjoy them most), but if the Bitmoji classroom reintroduces some fun in educational technology, I’d say, lighten up!

    • Bea

      Except, it is not educational. Who is learning? What are they learning? As Tim so rightfully asks, should we be wasting time on window dressing at a moment in time when efforts should be laser focused on sound instructional design? And, if teachers are being pressured into learning and doing this, how much fun can it possibly be?

      Tim, it is the first time I comment on your blog, but I have been a reader for ever and a day.

      • tim

        Thanks, Bea. I always appreciate it when someone reads my rants, and especially when they comment.

    • tim

      Yeah, Doug, I had a few other people tell me I should lighten up. If these were normal time, I probably would have just smiled at the furor over Bitmoji Classrooms and moved on to something else. But teachers right now are under a lot of pressure to make online schooling work and I’m not sure most of them have the time to learn something new that doesn’t directly relate to students. I could be wrong, and have been many times.

  2. Diana Kin

    Did you ever have a principal who let you know in no uncertain terms that how you decorated your bulletin board before Back-to-School Night was extremely important
    to him/her? I did. Same mindset. Not being a visually creative person, I always resented the time I had to spend on decorating. More common in elementary/middle school admins than high school ones, though.

    • tim

      As you said, Diana, those principals who considered room decorations important are more at the elementary level. In my HS classroom, I usually tacked up my collection of posters before open house and everyone was fine. At some point in my career I started letting students add to the room decor. The results were far more fun and interesting than anything I could have thought of.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. I’m going to jump here to add some concerns I’m seeing from folks who do a lot of work around social and emotional learning and trauma informed teaching. When we’re learning online we’re already somewhat removed from one another as we’re two-dimensional folks on a screen rather than three-dimensional folks sharing space. That removes us one layer. Bitmojis rather than photos of ourselves remove us one more step. Now we’re cartoon images of the two-dimensional folk. We should be doing all we can to be closer to our students rather than more removed.

    • tim

      As you know, Jen, I’m a big advocate for using photography in the classroom. I would much rather use photos, especially those taken by students, to decorate both the virtual spaces we are currently forced to live in, and the physical spaces we will eventually return to.

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