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Talking Avatars in Education – The Virtual Teacher Comes of Age!
Avatars, talking web personas and virtual proxies are growing in popularity for one critical reason … “they work”!
With Broadband becoming standard Internet access around the world, the benefits and possibilities of using rich media and interactivity in marketing are starting to become a reality if not the norm. One of the most active areas is in the so-called Animated Avatars which are known by many names such as: Talking Web Characters, Virtual Representatives, Virtual Characters and Web Comparisons. Their popularity is growing every day, it’s not by chance, a critical reason is… “they work”, but when it comes to using them to provide training, presentations or integrated into CBT and education, the Virtual Teacher faces tremendous with the challenge.
Assisted delivery of education using the ubiquitous Virtual Tutor comes of age.
Virtual teachers, educational presenters and teachers can have a new face, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the same happy attitude, virtual, animated, automated and compelling content, combined with contextual delivery . We know that retention is improved, we know that “supported” education can be absorbed effortlessly, and we know that there is nothing more powerful when it comes to conveying complex ideas or facts than the spoken word. Virtual Teachers can be available in shapes, ages, genders and even fantasy. The flexibility is endless. Education creators can focus on the subject matter and choose the ideal Virtual Tutor to assist in the process. Literature assignments can be given in context and even science education and maths brain teasing can be made more precise when you have the help of a virtual teacher who has the power of “voice”. Online or locally operated education makes delivering virtual education very effective and manageable. CBT has a new face, interactive courses can have virtual assistants and guides. Many training and formal educational settings include media within their presentations and educational content, and not by chance, why? because it works! The ability to focus on the content and its compelling and memorable delivery is the reason that Virtual Teachers and Tutors are a common place in the high foundations in the corporate stratosphere and secondary schools, they both have something in common , the recognition that compelling animated virtual teachers can deliver results in a planned and precise manner, where achievement can be accelerated at all learning levels. This is no coincidence, its technology at its best, with a face and a purpose. Take a PowerPoint presentation, graphics, facts, figures and images, pretty much, add an animated virtual teacher to the mix and now you have a new kind of educational delivery.
In an educational setting, it is a proven fact that retention and concentration of information improves when faced with compelling content. So what should you look for in your talking animated character?
1: Avatar view
Is your animated talking character “attractive”, or does it look like it fell from the ugly tree, is it well-crafted and generally convincing, or amateurish and poorly animated. Does it fit your image and delivery requirements… is it the quality you are happy to be associated with.
2: Automated lip sync
Is the avatar lip syncing correct? there’s nothing worse than looking at a virtual proxy that looks like a badly dubbed movie, it’s critical, our brain reacts in microseconds when faced with something that doesn’t look good! It seems strange, but most offerings of talking animated characters have less than convincing lip-synching. Simple tests include; Do virtual pimps’ lips stop moving when they are silent? Does it shape the phonemes correctly or is it just a random selection of gibberish?
3: Virtual Teachers Ambient animation, Less is more.
Animations during narration should be kept to a minimum and be subtle, almost invisible. When watching a news broadcast, you would feel uncomfortable if the comparison’s eyes rolled from side to side and they exhibited strange and seemingly uncontrollable head movements. It is the content delivered by the speaking avatar that is important and all animations should be kept to a minimum to avoid distraction. Less is definitely more.
4: Virtual Tutor – The Voice
Text-to-speech may seem appropriate, but it has a tendency to sound really bad. You remember! this is a virtual proxy, compare your animated web or media is an extension of your image, unless you sound like a robot walking away from synthesized voices. Use your own voice, or friends, or pay for a professional voice over artist, they’re not as expensive as you think! In the future TTS will probably be improved, but for now it should only be used if you have no other option.
5: Customizing your virtual character
Some offers give you tons of tailoring options, they even allow the visitor to play with the character during their narration. In general you should try to limit tailoring to clothing and background for best effect. You want your visitors and users to develop a rapport with your virtual teacher, so changing his appearance constantly does not provide continuity to the visitor or student. Having a virtual tutor that the visitor can mess with only diminishes their message.
6: Integrating and hosting your virtual tutor
Be aware that many requirements for the provision of education may be remotely via the Internet. Think hard about this area as it is fraught with potential additional fees and risks. If you’re on a Pay-for-view contract, a contract that charges you a monthly fee for so many streams, the risk is that your traffic increases, you end up with one of two possible problems; you have to pay more because you got more traffic as your site grows in popularity, or, you can’t afford to pay more, so your talking avatar disappears and leaves a block with the suppliers logo instead. The same goes for supplier hosting, you have no control over their hosting facility, if you rely on your internet benchmarking and your service suppliers servers go down, you have lost your “voice”. If you own internet service is down, at least the entire site is no longer visible. Always try to use a solution that will give you full control, create your composition in your own time, generate industry standard output (Flash, Flash Video or conventional video) and have complete flexibility when rendering talk about integration.
7: Flexibility gives you your choice.
Is flexibility important, would it be nice to have access to the native output of your efforts in an industry standard format like Flash, Flash Video, AVI etc so you can integrate your work into other environments like Powerpoint , Camtasia, YouTube etc. Are there any other services that the supplier can help you with, such as Voice-Overs, integration and bespoke services. Can your composition work offline, can you create them offline. Flexibility adds to your return on investment.
Doing something wrong is not a good idea, many people grab a new technology and throw it at their audience with little thought. Implementing a bad Animated Virtual Representative is detrimental and can reflect on your business and/or educational requirements, take your time in creating and don’t settle for second best.
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