Due to having too many students in a class and insufficient school budgets, and the method of online learning becoming increasingly popular for school and university education, both students and teachers are feeling stressed in many ways.
While the democratic learning was expected to make the participants of the learning process connected, they are actually losing valuable personal contact and struggling to find new ways to communicate.
Avatars are designed to help overcome those challenges by helping students visualize what they study in their history lessons and offering special training to teachers before they meet their students. The following is the list of 10 ways avatars can be useful in education.
- Providing training for teachers
One popular purpose for the use of avatars education is for teacher training. A recently developed research program at the University of Central Florida uses specifically designed avatars, which realistically portray various types of students thus helping teachers with practicing classroom management and communication with their future students. During a training, a teacher stands in front of a screen with avatars animated and controlled by real university students acting in a certain way. Other ambient noises like laughter and random background noises are also used to keep the trainee focused and learn not to get distracted.
Vokis is the name for speaking avatars, and teachers in many subjects, but especially language courses, use them recording their voices to make the avatar “speak” Animated avatars might assist students who usually tend to stay away from class discussions or who prefer audio perception of information instead of visual one to learn and get engaged into studies more easily. Teachers of language classes also find Vokis helpful in assisting students to improve their speaking and pronunciation skills by recording voice-overs for the avatars they use.
- Customized “tour” guides:
Either with vokis or regular avatars, teachers can create virtual “tours,” led by an avatar guide. The guide could be a digital representation of the teacher or of a completely different person. History teachers may take their students on a virtual tour to another country or The Oregon Trail, while art teachers can design their own tour to a virtual museum or gallery.
- Connecting via online learning:
Professors of online courses or teachers who use online tools like blogs and forums to connect with students can use avatars to make the Internet experience more personal and direct. Instead of enabling only the reading of all of the course material, avatars create the opportunity for virtual lectures and more interaction.
The virtual reality environment SecondLife has been used in higher education and for younger students for years, but its potential for experiential learning, role playing and online education is still impressive. Those who promote SecondLife as an education tool applaud its ability to promote active discussion and participation and help students apply concepts in a particular, realistic way.
- Bringing historical figures to life:
Some teachers are even designing avatars to look like historical figures like Mark Twain or Albert Einstein, bringing important lessons to life for students. By animating the important figures students traditionally only read about in dull textbooks, teachers are able to personalize and contextualize the subject, too.
- Giving remote learners a campus feel:
For several years now, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Harvard Law School’s CyberOne program provide open access, online courses and learning materials for the public. Unlike conventional open courseware, however, these platforms use avatars and virtual reality to help learners feel like they are actually sitting in a classroom at Harvard. By mimicking the layout of campus and classrooms, students feel more engaged and enthusiastic, even if they are learning independently at home.
- Personalized avatars for students:
Avatars are not just substituting teachers or guest speakers. Students also have a chance to create their own avatars which they can “take” with them as they explore websites and virtual reality games online. These avatars allow students to cross the portal into the online world so that they get hands-on experience instead of just passively listening to a one-way lecture.
- Solving problems and gaining real-world experience through virtual games:
This New York Times article reports about high school students acting as mayors, business professionals and engineers trying to clean up the oil spill, all by controlling their avatars. Through SecondLife and other labs, these students can interact with each other and other students with different backgrounds. This method is teaching them how to practically collaborate with all kinds of people in real- life situations, or even crises. In this way, students aren’t just learning about history or science, they’re gaining professional skills to help them in the business world, even before they enter college.
- Teacher assistants:
In overcrowded classrooms, teachers need all the help they can get, but their schools don’t always have the budget for assistants. Avatars, though, are being introduced to help teachers praise students working independently and just provide general positive feedback to help students’ self-esteem as they learn. As students work on the computer, they can design an avatar — or the teacher can design one for them — to stick with them as they try to solve problems and look for positive reinforcement from a teacher figure. So far, these avatars are already being used in special needs and traditional classrooms.