Everybody needs an avatar these days, and in a school environment where one wants to use social media, but privacy is a key issue, students should be encouraged to use avatars rather than photographs on any accounts they create. There are many free web-based services out there which allow you to create avatars, but I will look at just three.
The first is Portrait Illustration Maker which allows you to create cartoon style avatars like the one on the right, from templates. It is a web-based service, there are no downloads or logins required and you can download the avatar to store on your computer when you are done.
It is easy to use, and relies on you making selections of face shape, hair-style, eyes, mouth, etc and then downloading the completed avatar to your computer. There is a helpful preview, and it is easy to change and experiment with. All good clean fun!
There is a definite place for this type of cartoon style avatar in the classroom because it preserves anonymity, and yet allows students to have a profile picture. The next web-based service I looked at uses a photograph to cartoonize, but the face remains clearly recognisable. This may or may not be considered a privacy concern, but I certainly do advise students to be very careful about images they upload.
Cartoonize is a web-based application, also available as a free “trial” download, which uses a photo you select, to which you can add effects and then download the result to your computer. There are no logins required. the downloaded avatar does have an annoying water-mark attached, but you can purchase the software if you like it.
I have to say that I found the effects you could apply were rather limited and the result not exactly what I had in mind. Nevertheless, others may find it a fun tool, and it is certainly easy to use.
My last web-based service is Cartoon.Pho.to which is free, requires no logins, and is easy to use. It produces an animated gif which is way cool! You upload a photo and then apply a range of face morphing effects. I chose a smile for the avatar which you see on the right. It is a smile, promise! I cannot believe there is a student alive who would not enjoy playing with this tool. Does the avatar protect privacy? Not really, but you do not need to choose a photo of yourself.
To my mind this is one of the most engaging activities I have come across all year. Then again I am in the middle of writing school reports, so dental surgery might well seem engaging! All I can suggest is set aside an hour, and play with it! My only regret is that Moodle could not display the image as an animated gif!