Professional Development for Faculty Using Avatars

This is a creative and interesting idea for faculty professional development. It not only provides a vehicle through which to train faculty but also exposes them to emerging technologies.

Avatars to Teach the Teachers

July 7, 2010

Monique, the eager-to-please girl with the chirpy alto, is raising her hand again. But I’m more interested in drawing Maria — who hides in the back row and avoids eye contact — out of her shell.

“She don’t wanna talk to you, man,” says Marcus, confidently flip as usual. “She don’t talk to anybody.”

Vince, the pallid kid with dark hair who sits at Marcus’s left, chuckles — just like he did earlier when Marcus told me he “found” the Mercedes-Benz hood ornament, now draped around his neck, “in the parking lot.”

So I try engaging Francis, the shy but willing young man in camouflage shorts and a T-shirt. I ask him what he wants to learn about. “Uh … music,” says Francis, before launching into a beat-boxing exhibition that he says he learned from YouTube. I compliment him on the routine. Noting this, Monique raises her hand with redoubled urgency.

This is my class.

Well, sort of. I’m not really a middle-school teacher. But then again, the kids are not really middle-school students. They’re not even humans.

They are avatars. Not the blue kind from the James Cameron film, or even the sort of avatar most often used in higher education: the fantastical, flighted characters that professors and student embody when learning in Second Life. To the contrary, the point of these avatars, created by a team at the University of Central Florida, is to be as realistic as possible.

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