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Talking Avatars in Education – The Virtual Teacher Comes of Age!
Avatars, talking web personas, and virtual reps are gaining popularity for one key reason…”they work”!
With broadband becoming the standard Internet access around the world, the benefits and possibilities of using rich media and interactivity in marketing are beginning to become a reality, if not the norm. One of the most active areas is that of animated avatars 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 accident, a big reason is… “they work”, but when it comes to using them for training, presentations or integrated with CBT and in education, the virtual teacher rises eminently to the challenge.
The delivery of supported education using the ubiquitous virtual tutor is coming of age.
Virtual teachers, educational presenters and tutors can have a new face, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with the same great mood, virtual, animated and automated lip-syncing and compelling content combined with contextual delivery . We know retention is improved, we know lean back education can be absorbed effortlessly, and we know there is nothing more powerful when it comes to delivering complex ideas or facts. than speech. Virtual teachers can be available in different shapes, ages, genders and even fantasies. The flexibility is endless. Education creators can focus on the topic and choose the perfect virtual tutor to help them through the process. Literature assignments can be delivered in context and even science and math teaching can become more accurate when you have the help of a virtual tutor who has the power of “voice”. Web-based or locally managed unattended education makes virtual education delivery highly efficient and manageable. CBT has a new face, interactive courses can have virtual assistants and guides. Many training courses and formal educational environments integrate media into their presentations and educational content, and it is not by chance, why? because it works! The ability to focus on the content and its compelling and memorable delivery is why virtual teachers and tutors are commonplace in high schools in the corporate stratosphere and elementary schools, they both have something in common , the recognition that compelling animated virtual teachers can deliver results in a planned and precise way, where achievements can be accelerated at all levels of learning. It’s no coincidence, its technology at its best, with a face and a purpose. Take a PowerPoint presentation, some cool enough charts, facts, figures and images, add a fully animated virtual teacher into the mix and you now have a new breed of educational delivery.
In an educational setting, retention and concentration of information is proven to be improved when faced with compelling content. So what should you look for in your animated talking character.
1: The avatar look
Is your talking animated character “attractive”, or does it look like it fell out of the ugly tree, is it well designed and generally compelling, or amateurish and poorly animated. Does it match your image and delivery requirements…is the quality you are comfortable associating.
2: Automated Lip Sync
Is the avatar’s lip-sync accurate? there’s nothing worse than watching a virtual rep that looks like a badly dubbed movie, it’s critical, our brain reacts in micro-seconds to something going wrong! It sounds weird, but most animated talking character offerings have less-than-convincing lip-syncing, to say the least. Simple tests include; Do the lips of virtual tutors stop moving when silent? Does it shape the phonemes correctly or is it just random selection of gibberish?
3: Virtual teacher mood animation, less is more.
Animations during narration should be kept to a minimum and be subtle, almost invisible. When watching a news broadcast, you will feel uncomfortable if the comparison eyes roll from side to side and exhibit strange and seemingly uncontrollable head movements. It’s the content provided by the talking avatar that’s important, and all animations should be kept to a minimum to avoid distraction. Less is definitely more.
4: Virtual Tutor – Voice
Text-to-speech might sound convenient, but it tends to sound really bad. Remember! it’s a virtual rep, your own website or animated media compare it, it’s an extension of your image, unless you look like a robot, avoid synthesized voices. Use your own voice, or that of a friend, or hire a professional voice-over artist, they’re not as expensive as you think! In the future, TTS will probably improve, but for now it should only be used if you have no other option.
5: Customize your virtual character
Some offers give you lots of customization options, they even allow the visitor to play with the character during their narration. As a general rule, you should try to limit adaptation to clothing and backgrounds for the best effect. You want your visitors and users to establish a relationship with your virtual teacher, so continually changing its appearance does not provide continuity to the visitor or student. Having a virtual tutor that the visitor can play with only detracts from its message.
6: Integration and hosting of your virtual teacher
Consider that many education delivery requirements can be remotely via the internet. Think a lot about this area as it is riddled with potential additional burdens 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 your growth in visits, you end up with one of two potential problems; you have to pay more because you had a higher visit as your site gets more popular, or, you can’t afford to pay more, so your talking avatar disappears and leaves a block with the providers logo in place . The same goes for hosting providers, you have no control over their hosting setup, if you rely on your web comparator and your service providers’ servers go down, you’ve lost your ” voice”. If your own internet service goes 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 at your own pace, generate industry standard output (Flash, Flash video, or conventional video), and have full flexibility when it comes to integration.
7: Flexibility gives your choice.
Is flexibility important, would it be nice to have access to the native output of your efforts in an industry standard format such as Flash, Flash Video, AVI, etc. so you can embed your work in other environments such as Powerpoint, Camtasia, YouTube, etc. Are there any other services that can help you from the provider, such as voice overs, integration and bespoke services. Can your composition work offline, can you create them offline. Flexibility adds to the return on investment.
Doing any job badly is not a good idea, a lot of people grab a new technology and throw it out to their audience without thinking about it. Implementing the wrong animated virtual rep is detrimental and could impact your business and/or educational needs, take your time in creation and don’t settle for second best.
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