Synthetic characters, agents or avatars are relatively new. This article will look at the possibilities of harnessing a bot (a consersational robot) to aid in learning.
Making a Friend
Bots are one of many objects that are easy to construct in a online environment like a MOO or MUD. Builders in a MOO can construct a bot, and program it to look like whatever they like (pet parrot, albatross, whatever) and say whatever they like. Bot vocabularies include keywords, responses, randoms (idle chit chat), question responses and more complex patterns of grammar.
Yodabot says "Do or do not, there is no try". It is fascinating to watch students making their own bots - they can become virtual friends, someone to talk to when no one in the real world wants a chat, ego-strokers, pay-out machines, jesters, confuzzlers and information repositories. The adult approach to bot creation is rarely as interesting or entertaining (maybe we have had our creativity strangled out of us).
A bot can be a flexible educational tool - it can be applied to many situations. What follows are some scenarios I have used bots for in my MOO.
... um ... just do it - see what you can do with a bot.
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Mail me with your ideas/feedback - I'll post it for others to see if you like.