When first introducing learners to a virtual immersive environment (VIE), it might seem like a waste of time to allow learners to customize their avatar. You might be tempted to think "hey, just pick a male or female avatar and let's get going to the 'real' learning." Don't.
Don't ignore or "brush off" the fact that personalizing an avatar is a big part of the 3D virtual immersive environment experience.
I've talked about the importance of this before in You Are Your Avatar, Your Avatar is You. As research indicates, people become very vested in their avatar, this vesting needs to be accommodated in the entire process of having learners enter a virtual world.
Conducting an activity of avatar customization at the beginning of the virtual world on-boarding process helps learners to more easily customize their avatar and avoid frustration with trying to find the right “hair color and length” or the right outfit and look. It also teaches the importance of the “Sense of Self” when learners are participating in educational experiences in 3D environments.
The "Sense of Self" is a huge advantage that 3D environments have over 2D virtual classrooms and as designers or developers of 3D virtual world instruction, we need to leverage the 3D capabilities of customization to fully engage participants and to give them a sense of being immersed in the learning. Otherwise, we are missing a huge opportunity of allowing our learners to emotionally invest in the learning.
It is a very good idea to allow learners "personnel" time with their avatar. If you want learners to become invested in the learning and in their avatar, they need to spend time customizing and making their avatar a personnel reflection of who they are. Here is an exercise I use in workshops and classes to allow learners time to customize.
1. Gather learners in a single location within the virtual world.
2. Provide the learners with instruction on avatar customization.
3. Allow learners to customize their avatars (provide tips, hints and ideas, even clothes).
4. Provide learners uninterrupted time to customize their avatar.
5. Have the students “show off” their avatar.(a kind of fashion show)
6. Ask why they chose certain attributes in the customization process and what it means.
7. Show them how to change outfits or looks and save their existing look. They can become frustrated if a look they "love" disappears.
*Note:This is not a male/female thing. Everyone likes to customize their avatars and needs to so they can create a necessary connection.
ADDITION: Check out this entry by Rich Mesch discussing the being a Tourist in the Uncanny Valley which talks about how realistic an avatar should look.
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