Archive for the ‘Avatars’ Category

Technology Review: Voki

by guest blogger Robert Foth, from Pima Community College
What is it?
A free animated avatar (the parent company is oddcast – maker of SitePal). Check mine out at my college homepage. Voki avatars can be hosted on any html page (blog, wiki, webpage, etc.). The website will give you the code necessary to embed this little avatar. You can choose the type of avatar and the background used (some backgrounds are animated and may appear faster or slower than expected). There is options to add effects to the audio, but I have not had much success with that feature.

Cost? Free!

Technical Requirements?

You need to set up an account on the Voki website and be able to copy and paste html code. You can use a microphone to record your voice (text to voice never sounds great, but you can use it). Audio can also be imported from a file or called in with a cell phone. The audio limitation is about 1 minute on the audio.

How could we use this technology in the hybrid, online, or traditional classroom?

I can put up a greeting for my students for when they access my website/online classroom. I currently have mine on the course homepage in WebCT. I can see using these to make an online assignment more interactive by having some instructions given by the voki (you can do a talking moose if you wish Maria). The MathPlayground uses vokis in problems: students listen to two different arguments in a problem and then are polled to see who is correct.

How could we use this technology in our professional lives?

Impress your colleagues by having an avatar give announcements on the departmental web page. Put one on your website to stand out among the crowd (for those of us interviewing this year).

Wish list for this technology?

The ability to use an audio file of greater size (one minute is not always enough time). There are some bugs in the system (occasional errors in background image / audio updates) – hey it’s free though. The ability to add a polling feature at the end of the animation would be nice too.
Feel free to comment-in a link to your avatar if you’ve got one!
For more on avatars and other avatar software, click on the label “Avatar” in the right-hand column under “Labels” or click here.

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NKU Day Three

I spent the morning building the presentation for online calculus that I gave this afternoon. The presentation is not built in PowerPoint, it’s in Mindomo. I don’t think I’ve blogged about Mindomo yet – but since January I’ve been using it for all my presentions.

You can visit the presentations by following the links below. At the mind map, you can view all my notes, follow all my hyperlinks, etc. The thing that makes it a significantly different presentation is that it is a) interactive, b) the audience can explore while you give the presentation, each on their own browser, c) it does not have to be linear.

Online Calculus (today’s presentation)

Using the Internet to Spice Up your Math Class (yesterday’s presentation)

Following all of those links and watching all of those videos should keep you busy all weekend.

So… on to my non-presentation progress. I spent some time developing a concept map for my “perfect” faculty development platform (including the ability to integrate mathematics in all text options). They are trying to build one for someone else, but having trouble with the design, so I got to choose everything I would ideally want. Hopefully that will be built in Flex by mid-April so that I can use it for the MCC Math & Technology workshop too.

And … drumroll please … here’s the iClone avatar for my Calculus Orientation (this is really just a demo – intending to see if it was possible to get the avatar to do what we wanted it to do – namely POINT to something). The software is a bit difficult to learn (but the good software usually is). Anyways, enjoy!

Avatar on Blackboard Class

I have made Matt promise to post a tutorial on how we did it (although we’re not really sure we understand how we did it)… so I hope to have a more advanced orientation done soon.

I know that this is really ridiculous and that I could do it much easier with a mouse pointer and a voice over, but it’s fun … so I want to learn.

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NKU Day Two

Another busy day at NKU.

I spent my first two hours this morning playing with Google Sketchup looking for backgrounds to use for the platform for the MCC Math & Technology Workshop, which will be built mostly with Adobe Flex. For those of you who are interested in coding, you may want to check Flex out. We discovered today that WizIQ (mentioned in several previous posts) runs off a Flex platform.

If you just want to look into Google Sketchup, download the free version and import files from the 3D Warehouse. I was playing with gardens, castles, scenes from Lord of the Rings, buildings from College and University campuses, and all sorts of other creations. It was fun even just to look.

Mike and I spent some time discussing Multiverse vs. Second Life. In particular, Multiverse is, as Mike put it, more “objective-oriented” (think – game-style objectives). The multiverse worlds are themed and they are obviously more designed for gaming than just a “3-D chat platform.” So here’s my thought (as we were thinking about what’s best for education). What if we put up learning modules in Multiverse (similar to the learning modules of Connexions), where the “objective” is to learn enough to earn some kind of prize at the end of the module – perhaps a “badge” that shows you have mastered some kind of content. Then you can wear your badges (or perhaps they show in your profile) so that you can easily see what kind of learning everyone has mastered. Rather than thinking in 15-week chunks, perhaps we think in concepts instead – a badge for differentiation, a badge for limits, a badge for Volumes of rotation where MASTERY is required to earn your prize.

Also this morning, I spent some time with Matt (one of the students who works in the instructional design office) working our way through iClone. In particular, we wanted to take a full-body avatar and put her on my online calculus screen and have her point to buttons and explain what they do (this is for my online orientation for a future semester). So we are working up a little demo of that – stay tuned for more tomorrow (we’re still refining!). It took a while to figure out how to create our own motions and to learn what the software was doing when it altered our added motions… so maybe Matt will post a tutorial to help me when I get home and realize I’ve unlearned this week’s worth of stuff.

At some point in the day Amanda (another ID student) showed me the platform for their Faculty Learning Community – which I may poach a lot of the code for my Math Workshop from.

After lunch I showed one of the NKU instructors (together with Mike, Amanda, and Matt) how to use WizIQ to facilitate online students participating in live classes, and then we went on from there to talking about more pedagogical issues, recording with camtasia, editing videos to make them a richer media, etc.

That’s when Mike realized he should’ve had me speak to the whole Faculty Learning Community in addition to the math department. So I was sent over to my seminar today trailing two students armed with a video camera and tripod (and I hear they are coming back tomorrow too). Thus begins my own version of “MARIA talks” – I am about to crash here, so maybe someone can think of a clever “TED”-like acronym for MARIA.

Lessons learned from the talk:

  • When you can’t get your laptop to project properly, you should consider it an opportunity to free up your mind from the nervousness about the presentation, and apply it to nervousness about the technology instead.
  • Make sure you enable the SOUND on the laptop if you plan to play sound.
  • Make sure to plug your portable speakers into the HEADPHONE jack (not the mic jack)
  • Keep a clock or timer in sight so that you don’t run out of time!
  • I thought I would be nervous about the video recording – didn’t bother me in the least bit. Totally forgot about it – except that I occasionally wondered why the girl in the back of the room was standing up (Amanda was recording). Probably I am more nervous about SEEING the recording.

I saw a former student, Meg, who goes by “Mighty Meg” in the blogging world and is often commenting on this blog. Meg’s now a math PhD student in Lexington (she says she was tricked). It was fun to see her and Steve, and their two dogs Gator and Katie.

My most useful bit of the knowledge for the day comes in this useful little tip that Andy, my host here at NKU, passed along – this is one of those tips that seems obvious (now that I know it)…

I like to use Windows Journal during live class recordings because the interface is simple to use and it doesn’t get flickery when it is being projected and recorded simultaneously. I had been snagging images from my other files (like parts of Word or pdf files) and pasting them into Windows Journal.

Andy pointed out that in the “Print Options” in Word, Adobe, etc. there is a Print option for Journal Note Writer. Using this option dumps the file into Windows Journal and then you can write on it with all the functionality of the Windows Journal palette. Wow! I was totally doing that one the hard way!

As for Robert (who asked about ICTCM presentations on Casting Out Nines)… I’m giving three and I am planning to bravely hope the Internet works. I have ONE backup plan. For the hour-long talk, I have asked a friend with a wireless Internet card in his PC to attend the session. If worst comes to worst, I will use his laptop to run the presentation. If a conference on technology can’t get their technology to work then … well … it’s probably not worth coming back to next year!

And for Jason (who is probably watching for the post on the elaboration technique)… I have not forgotten about it – I’m probably looking at next week at the earliest to get that posted.

I’m looking forward to all my plane flights as a time of rest and relaxation …. um … maybe to get some papers graded too.

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What to do with an Avatar?

An avatar can certainly be an attention-grabber for an online class where you don’t get much face-to-face interaction. (NOTE TO RSS READERS: You may have to click through to see/hear the avatar on this one.)

Click on the avatar to activate the speech.
(I hate those blogs with auto-loading sound.)

I use mine to remind (warn) students when there’s going to be an exam. Recently I’ve acquired a new model – ME! This is as close as you’re going to get to meeting me in person (at least online). For a mere $75 ($37.50 if it’s on sale), you can have your face mapped into a 3-D avatar model. So, that’s what I did. I call her the Marivatar.

At first it seemed creepy – but now I’ve gotten used to it and sometimes when I look in the mirror I am a little disturbed to see that I don’t look as good as my “idealized” self. I think I need some blue colored contacts. Then I may feel better.

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Easter Egg Avatar

I spent a pretty significant amount of time getting my avatar to properly load in to Bb7, and I fatally crashed my Bb7 Announcements page in the process (note to the wise, make sure to load avatar HTML as a non-javascript web page).

Originally, I was thinking that the avatar would just appear on the announcements screen to greet students all the time. But… I think I just had an epiphany here! The avatar should move and there should be two of them (I get five “screens” (avatar scenes) total with my subscription, and this site is using one of them, so I can easily devote two to my online calc site.

If students are participating the way that they should, then they should run into an avatar that encourages them. When there are important announcements, like when students need to schedule their tests, there should be an avatar that appears in one of their contact screens and reminds them.

In this way, the avatar announcements are like “easter eggs” to find in the online class. Kind of a “where’s waldo” for the online learning world.

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Playing with Avatars

Well, I’m trying to get my Online Calc class up and running this week and at some point I became obsessed with getting an avatar to make the announcements in the course. Why use an avatar? Let me tell you a story…

When I was in 8th grade, I took Geometry from a guy named Mr. Allison. He had the most bizarre colored pants (to this day I can still remember Mr. Allison’s famous red pants). Every day, it was worth it to go to class just to see what color his pants would be. As a consequence, I never missed a day of class and I really did enjoy learning from the guy.
My current thinking is that if the avatar changes pretty often, the students will at log in to class often just to see if the avatar has changed. Then, when they see the avatar, it will remind them out loud (in 60 seconds or less) what is about to be due or any other important announcements (“schedule your next test” comes to mind). Is that silly? Yes. Might it work? Also yes. It could. (Really… have you tried it? Can you tell me for sure it won’t work?)
So, all evening I’ve been experimenting with the avatars on SitePal. The only major problem I’ve encountered is that all the female avatars are pretty “busty.” I think they might have all been designed for naughty websites. Or I could have a giant moose for an avatar. Imagine learning calculus from a moose! “The integral of 3x^2 is x^3+C” says the moose.

So finding appropriate attire and “sexing down” the avatar requires a bit of work. But it is doable. Once I finally created a professional looking avatar (not like the live avatar to the right), then it was time to choose a background.

Imagine your calculus instructor teaching next to a sink drain with water and debris being sucked down the hole. Hmm… I feel a problem about rotational velocity forming in my brain…

OR you could teach in front of a police car with flashing lights… cue the word problem about velocity and acceleration.

OR you could teach in front of “the matrix” (it moves)… no word problems coming to mind for that one, but I’m thinking that having a contest to write the best word problem to go with the daily background would be awesome!

There is other avatar software out there (iClone for example). But this was quick and dirty and it will have to do for now (no time to learn anything else).

Before you dismiss me and my blog as completely ridiculous, let me ask… would your next department meeting be more enjoyable if it were led by a purple-skinned bald woman with sunglasses? Yeah… that’s what I thought.

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