Linda Williams, MS, RN
The University of Wyoming, Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing's Nightingale Center for Nursing Scholarship (NCNS) annually presents an award to a School of Nursing faculty member for notable achievements. This year, the NCNS presented the Communication of Wisdom award to Linda Williams in honor of her work developing speaking avatars (otherwise known as Vokis) for online teaching.
Williams says that a Voki is a talking voice character that can be used to provide a face to the teacher and provide a human element in an online classroom. Vokis can be used to greet students entering the course, to introduce course content or to give instructions just to name a few. Voki’s can be created in a teacher’s likeness or a public figure or someone famous can be chosen as the Voki. Williams uses a script and records her own voice, although there are a variety of voices to choose from. “Designing talking avatars is fun,” says Williams, “and includes creating a physical look to the character, choosing inside or outside scenery, and then framing the Voki within a video type screen.”
The ability to use and create avatars has been possible for at least 5 years and educators interested in using different media for teaching continue to discover some of the unique roles these speaking characters can have particularly in the online classroom. However, Vokis can be used in any classroom and for any subject or grade. Williams was interested in trying new methods of connecting with online students and to reach more types of learners such as audio and visual learners. She created a Voki in her likeness and introduced this character on the home page of her Nursing Leadership course. Students were introduced to the Voki and its role in an introductory paragraph and were directed to click on the start arrow to hear opening comments before starting the course. Thereafter, a Voki was present at the start of each unit in the course to give opening comments. A Voki was also used to wrap up the course with some final comments.
One student recently remarked that she really liked the Voki characters that introduced each unit because it was nice to hear what the teacher had to say and the Voki made her feel like she knew the teacher better in an online class. Research also suggests that students cooperate with the talking character and follow the spoken directions.
Williams says she has really only just begun exploring the uses for Vokis in online teaching and she is also using other internet media such as podcasts and JING (a screen capture program) to give feedback to students. She really likes the challenge and is only too happy to share new teaching methods with her colleagues.
Thank you, and congratulations, Linda!