Using Web Avatars with Children in New Zealand

Fallon, G. (2010). Using avatars and virtual environments in learning: What do they have to offer? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 108-122.

Article Review

According to Fallon (2010), avatars are “online manfiestations of self in a virtual world, and are designed to enhance interaction in a virtual space” (Peterson, 2005, p. 30) and about “the user to take on a visible persona” (Deuchar & Nodder, 2003, p. 1). The beginning of the article highlights the author’s very succinct litearture review addressing the benfits of avartar-featured virtual environments for students’ learning. The review travels from general benefits promoted by scholars to enhanced-engagement functions and to more specific/purposeful use of avartars for students’ communications. From my reading of the review, one point the author could dig deeper might be, in addition to categorizing the tool effects from general enhancement in learning to further reaching focused learning goals, that the use of avatars in education have been understood in different ways, shifting from the supporting functions of this tool (the technology itself) to its possible “substitute” role of replacing the conventional learning environment.

Fallon narrates his study using MARVIN–a virtual storytelling tool with elementary school students in New Zealand. MARVIN helped children use different multimedia tools within it to compose stories. The stories were finally presented by avatars in an virtual environment. This study focuses on teachers from five classes of children at ages 7 and 8. The data were collected through the methods of teacher interview, survey, and student observation (via videotaping). The major analysis method is open coding.

Findings show that teachers and students thought this tool as a highly motivating and engaging medium, which gave students “superior collaboration and interaction” (p. 116). The author then evaluated the findings according to criteria from the cognitive domain in understanding students’ engagement. I wish I could see more about how children actually used this tool to compose their stories in a virtual environment, which is only briefly mentioned probably due to that the focus of this study is on cognitive engagement. I also wish the author could insert an example of a story composed by students.


Deuchar, S. & Nodder, C. (2003). The impact of avatars and 3D virtual world creation on learning. In the proceedings of the 16th Annual NACCQ Conference. Palmerston North.

Peterson, M. (2005). Learning interaction in an avatar-based virtual environment: a preliminary study. PacCALL Journal, 1, 29–40.

EdLab Connections

This study might inspire us to think about Edlab’s future grant applications and development projects. As virtual learning has already become the next wave of change in both virtual schools and physical schools (with up to 44 states established publicly funded virtual schools in the year 2009), virtual learning tools, especially for primary children, in different subject areas (e.g., language, literacy, and science) might become a heated target in the educational development market.