Faces, hearts and thumbs: Exploring the use of Emoji in online teacher-student communications in higher education
For many students, online communication is a significant element of academic language support, and can include messaging via a learning management system and social media. This mode must still meet all the needs of the professional teacher-student relationship, and safe, ethical boundaries must be maintained in spite of using communication tools that are often more aligned with informal communications – including popular short cuts, such as emojis.
Emojis – small digital images or icons used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication – have significantly changed the way we communicate by adding nuance to a written exchange. Indeed, Emoji has become an optional, global language, “intended to illustrate, or in some cases replace altogether, the words we send each other digitally” (Sternbergh, 2014, p. 3). This phenomenon is widespread, with more than 90% of online users incorporating emojis in texts and emails (Kaye, Malone, & Wall, 2017), and teachers are no exception. Yet without vocal cues or body language, online communication can be a minefield of misunderstandings (Schwartz, 2015). How clear are students and tutors, really, about the quick-click-response communication they share online?
This paper shares findings from current research into whether we are ‘speaking emoji’ in the same wordless tongue (Sternbergh, 2014) suggesting changes are needed in practice and pedagogy.