Next for education: Teacher avatars

By Laura Devaney, Managing Editor
April 6th, 2011

Chemistry teacher Brenda Remus is developing her intelligent avatar.

Hoping to brush up on colonial history, a student looks at a computer screen where a smiling, blinking Benjamin Franklin gazes back. The student types a simple question. “Of course, I signed the Declaration of Independence along with the other forefathers of our country,” Franklin replies.

But this isn’t a scene reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie, complete with moving figures in books and paintings. In fact, it’s a very real technology, in which companies develop intelligent avatars. The avatars look almost exactly like their human counterparts, and the avatar’s knowledge base comprises information from a person’s life and other relevant alternate sources.

Ben Franklin’s avatar is a creation of Intellitar, a Huntsville, Ala., technology firm working to digitally clone educators and knowledge sources to make them more accessible to students at any time, from any place.

An artificial intelligence (AI) engine captures thoughts, experiences, ideas, and personality traits of the person who is being cloned. Intellitar complements the avatars with “alternate knowledge sources” to fill in gaps.

Intellitar has identified a number of potential applications for the avatars, but education, online instruction, and online training have been top focuses.

To populate an educator’s avatar with knowledge, Don Davidson, Intellitar co-founder and CEO, said a common starting point might be a digital curriculum that would serve as an alternate knowledge source. The educator would provide personal experiences as they relate to the subject matter or views on certain topics.