For those of you that have been keeping up regularly* with this blog, you should be somewhat familiar with the concept of the Educational Positioning System (EPS). I’ve discussed its potential as a data repository that will allow learners to have greater understanding and control over their academic pathways. Ultimately, this understanding and control will help inform learners on how to be better consumers in the educational marketplace. I’ve also discussed a little of my thinking regarding the technology supporting the EPS functionality; but I haven’t gotten into much detail as far as the interface between EPS and individual learner. I’m fairly convinced that the most effective interface will be one that allows and facilitates the development of a highly personalized avatar within the EPS, manifested at the smart device level–the connection point between system and end user. I’ll flesh out this interface concept in an upcoming blog entry, but right now I want to lay some groundwork in terms of understanding the role of the avatar between system and user.
The term “avatar” comes from the Sanskrit अवतार meaning roughly “vessel for God on Earth.” With the technological methods by which we have implemented avatars in software today, this meaning is multi-layered: our sense of self as the avatar is often framed in a game environment as we experience actions and events first hand, and simultaneously we play God, directing the our avatar’s every move as an outside agency, sometimes having omniscient awareness of the world in which our avatar exists. In many ways, we have more control in our avatar’s existence… as opposed to the things we cannot change in our own world.
One of the abilities we have in regards to our avatarial presentation is that we are often able to customize characteristics such as ethnicity or gender. Lahti (2003) states,
“For white men, there is a safe way to try on being different races or the female gender without the risk of giving up any of the social or cultural power associated with the white male identity in the real world.”
This is a significant capability; in the past we could live vicariously through characters within fictional constructs (movies or books, for example), but the narrative was driven by an author removed from us, and while we may have been given to empathize with the characters, we never became the characters in the way we do with our avatars in interactive games and environments. Because of this deeper identification with our avatars, we are better and more likely able to understand the life of the “other.” What this may ultimately mean is unclear at this point in time (better diversity awareness?), but it clearly opens avenues for the exploration of human-machine interactions in ways that were almost possible to imagine only a couple of decades earlier.
Bringing the idea of the avatar back to the EPS, we see the potential of humanizing a complex system that facilitates interaction with educational institutions while keeping our complete educational history stored in the cloud. This actually sets up an idea that will have tremendous impact on the very nature of the teaching and learning enterprise. Stay tuned.
*For those of you that haven’t been keeping regularly, you should be!
Lahti, M. (2003). As we become machines. In M. Wolf & B. Perron(Eds.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 157-170). London: Routledge.