by Karen Nichols
Did you experiment with avatars when they were the latest craze some years ago? Maybe you created one (or more) to enjoy gaming experiences such as Second Life. Mardi Gras is a great time to re-visit the use of avatars in education because, like masking for carnival, avatars can provide you and your students with opportunities for role-playing as well as creating conversations and presentations as well as providing information. Anecdotally, my students used to tell me that if I send them a message in the form of an avatar, they'll actually open it and listen to it because they're fun and different and not boring like words on a page. As a French instructor, I would ask the students to create an avatar that speaks French or have them use the avatar to explain a cultural event we were learning.
If you would like to use simple avatars to dress up an email or announcement to your students or have the students create an avatar for a particular assignment, then you can start with the free site, Voki. Voki will allow you to create one-time avatars and messages without signing up for an account. Here are the directions:
1. Once on Voki.com, click on the Create tab, top left of the page.
2. Choose Customize your Character and then play around a bit to check out the facial features, clothing, etc. When finished, click the small green Done tab at the bottom right corner.
3. Next choose Give it a Voice. You'll see a variety of options from calling in or recording your text so that the voki will have your voice, to typing a message and choosing one of the voices already programmed. Note that if you type the text and choose a voice, there will be no emotion and some of the words may not be pronounced as you wish. This is the choice I made for the little voki below so that you could hear what I'm explaining. I also had to spell phonetically, Happy Mardi Grah, so that the US voice would not pronounce the "s". Remember to click the green Done tab at the bottom right corner.
4. Choose a background next.
5. Choose a player, the frame for the voki with the buttons the receivers will click on.
6. Happy with your voki? Click publish and name it. When you click "publish" you receive the option to email a friend, link to it via the website, or copy the code to embed the voki as I did below.
Site Pal, the premium site intended for the corporate world, is much more robust and not only offers simple avatars like Voki, but other ways to use them. My colleague who teaches Spanish and I have experimented with Artificial Intelligence in the form of a Graduate Assistant avatar. You may have seen something similar if you shop online catalogs. Our Grad Assistant was available with a click on any page in the language course. She popped up and asked how she could help. The student would type in a question, and if we had programmed in an answer for it, she would explain it to them. We used the idea of a Graduate Assistant, but you could design an avatar that's YOU answering their questions, and thus be available for your students 24/7! Instead of masking as someone or something different for Mardi Gras, here you would be creating a "virtual you" who can keep working as you try to sleep or grade or research. Sound intriguing? If so, contact me and let's talk avatars!