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Students using ipad

How emojis are improving education


Whether you’re a pro who forgoes time-consuming letters in favour of emojis whenever possible, or you stick to a simple smiley face now and then, these little symbols have made an impact. And while some may roll their eyes at their use, ACU researchers have discovered they work as a powerful communication tool for children.

The first evidence of emoticons (facial expressions made from punctuation symbols like this :-) ) appeared in a magazine more than 130 years ago. Perhaps evolving from there, emojis became a part of our lexicon in the 1990s. Since then they have come a long way, and Oxford English Dictionaries even had ‘😂’ as its ‘word’ of the year in 2015. Now, with all of us gripping our smartphones at all times, emojis are ubiquitous.

Boy using iPad

Emojis enter the classroom

Literacies and Digital Culture Professor Mills from ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education saw the potential in emojis and other forms of digital communication when she began the SELFIE Project (Strengthening Effective Language of Feelings in Education). Professor Mills and her team studied more than 200 primary school students across three low socioeconomic Queensland schools. She found that by taking advantage of children’s natural fascination with smartphones and all things digital, their vocabulary and English comprehension could be improved. 

Working closely with teachers, principals and the not-for-profit Big Picture Industries media company, young SELFIE Project participants were taught how to produce their own digital images, posters, animations and films. To enhance their creations, they also learned how to express themselves through emojis, as well as animations, selfies, memes and gifs. The idea underpinning Professor Mills’ research was that these new forms of communication could help the children understand and better describe a range of emotions, attitudes and judgments.  

Emojis

Speaking their language

“The students went from using quite basic and simplistic emotional language to then being able to describe emotions in very sophisticated terms,” Professor Mills said. 

While many of us may scoff at the idea of emojis being used as learning tools (let alone having an entire world-wide day of appreciation for them, cue World Emoji Day), the reality is these new digital languages are here to stay.  

“Typically, we think of books as a way to increase literacy, but not all young people are motivated to learn in this way,” said Professor Mills. “There are many ways that education can channel young people’s everyday literacy practices with mobile phones and computer games to inspire learning, and to not only play games for learning, but also to learn how to build the games themselves.”  

Kathy Mills is Professor of Literacies and Digital Cultures at ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education. 

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright @ Australian Catholic University 1998-2018 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G