Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Adventuring with Avatars

I've spent a couple of weeks trying lots of different Web 2.0 technologies and now it is time to start reviewing what I've learnt.

A couple of years ago I did a course that asked us to consider how educational environments would change in the next fifty years. My group decided to focus on the prominence of virtual reality in the new classroom. We believed that this change in the environment would provide a more interactive and engaging approach to education, compared with the typical classroom settings. I still believe these things to be true; I think we just overestimated the time it would take. Virtual reality in education is becoming… well, a reality. The research regarding avatars and virtual realities is becoming more abundant and it looks promising.

Last year, ScienceDaily published an article reviewing a Keio University experiment to couple the latest brain science with the Internet and allow a man with a muscular disorder to walk through a virtual world using brainwave detection (Keio University, 2008). While this advanced use of virtual worlds is unlikely to reach our education system anytime soon, it does give a strong indication for the potential of this technology.

Kemp, Livingstone & Broomfield (2009) review the emerging platform SLOODLE (Simulation Linked Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) which is an attempt to couple Virtual Learning Environments with the more socially interactivity virtual world Second Life. While they admit that support for tutors and students is currently lacking, they believe that there is great potential for such 3D settings, particularly in distance education.

My own experience with avatars is less advanced, but still has potential within the classroom. The website Voki allows you to create short avatar communications for free. It’s certainly something different – you can use everything from pigs to politicians, in a variety of locations, to say whatever it is you would like them to say. I chose to use the text-to-talk feature, but I must admit the voices do irritate me after a certain time period. I haven’t tested the voice-recording feature yet, but I would be tempted to do this if I were to use avatars regularly in my classroom. Not necessarily my voice, however, I would be encouraging my students to help with the presentations by creating their own avatar characters and voice recordings. I think that these short avatars (see below) would be great in my science and mathematics classes to review important definitions and formula.

Get a Voki now!

Keio University (2008). Using Brainwaves To Chat And Stroll Through Second Life: World's First. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from

Kemp, J. Livingstone, D. & Bloomfield, P. (2009) SLOODLE: Connecting VLE tools with emergent teaching practice in Second Life. British Journal of Educational Technology. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from

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