avatar, n. 1.Hindu Myth. The descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape; the incarnation of a god 2. A supreme manifestation; embodiment. [Skt avatara descent]
The Macquarie Dictionary (1981) revised edition Macquarie Library
1. Hinduism the manifestation of a deity, notably Vishnu, in human, superhuman, or animal form
2. a movable image that represents a person in a virtual reality environment or in cyberspace
Collins Discovery Encyclopaedia, (2005) 1st edition HarperCollins Publishers
These definitions reflect the ethereal quality of the faces that are becoming more frequent on our computer screens. The software that can be used for a number of applications allows a human (or other) face to add some humanity to the somewhat alien technology of bytes, numbers and text of the webpage. Written instructions will make way for a replicant personality or an artificial mask to a human’s voice. I see this as a natural progression in the evolution of the robot and the individualised personality of artificial intelligence.
The question is however “What are the implications for education?” Siemens’ “Principles of Connectivism” (2005) alludes to this when he states “Learning may reside in non-human appliances.” Are we seeing the beginning of the end of human teachers? As technology becomes more advanced, will Flex courses be guided by an avatar that can translate curricular requirement tasks to voice activated question and answer assessment?
Of course the possibilities are limitless in the long term but what of the near future? My immediate need as a student would be for a friendly and consoling face to quieten my fears when cyber stress and rage overtake me in my lonely office. I can see primary age students enjoying the creative and fun aspects of using the Voki or Sitepal software as I have. The implications for meeting Department of Education outcomes would lend themselves to English literacy assessment and Special Education applications. Students who were anxious about their looks or speech could find another voice. Comparisons could be made about how students feel about messages from an avatar as opposed to a real person, would they respond differently. Critical literacy issues abound.