The Use of Avatars in Multi-Context Courseware

Concurrent Session 1

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Brief Abstract

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.



Jeremiah Woolsey has over 30 years of experience in the IT field, both in public and private service. He spent 15 years as an IT consultant and systems engineer in the aerospace industry before making the move to higher education in 2002. As the Director of Digital Learning & Technology Solutions at the College of Continuing Education, California State University Sacramento, Jeremiah sustains a comprehensive information and technology environment supporting the college’s academic, administrative and online technology needs, and especially, the integration of technology into the teaching and learning process. Jeremiah attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama on a basketball scholarship and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama, where he recently served on their National Alumni Association Board of Directors. He also received a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Later, he undertook doctoral studies in educational technology at Concordia University in Montreal where he was honored with the Perry Award for Academic Excellence. Jeremiah also founded and help fund an endowment for that school’s engineering and computer science students interested in Interactive Digital Media. Jeremiah has authored over 30 articles on the use of interactive digital media in education, training, and product support.