The Use of Avatars in Multi-Context Courseware
Concurrent Session 1
In the demand for abbreviated turnaround times and reduced costs for online content, the potential benefits in production and post-production processes with the use of online avatars in place of video is being evaluated in several courseware projects. Given the characteristics of this particular medium it is important to understand where is the use of avatars is deemed appropriate for the specific learning objectives and where not.
Online avatar packages offer a less expensive alternative to shooting video as location issues, audio-video production equipment, on-screen talent, and post-production editing. The ‘alternate reality’ aspect lends an engaging component to visuals; but beyond the initial curiosity can the engagement be sustained. Different avatar packages have different ‘looks’, from the starkly realistic to the cartoonish.
Does the sometimes ‘cartoonish’ feel diminish the weight and importance of the message. Avatar packages offer different features: multi-character, head-bust-to-full body, background scenes, customization, and text-to-speech.
The courseware being designed, built, and is being tested using avatars in simulated scenarios where the learner is expected to apply higher level, abstract knowledge from the earlier didactic to a ‘real life’ situation. Another application of the avatars is as an online ‘Mentor’, an authority providing counsel and anonymity without the fear of error that a live human instructor might induce. The avatars are also being used simply as a didact and re-used for multi-lingual content.
Considerations for integrating avatars into the instructional design process involve some refining of storyboards to include scripts with scene direction and dialogue. This presentation captures quantitative and qualitative data from the Learning Management System on time on task, performance metrics, and learner interaction with the avatars in several courses in a variety of pedagogical contexts.