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STANDING up to speak or perform in front of a live audience can be utterly terrifying. But virtual auditoriums are helping teachers, musicians, police and business people practice face-to-face interactions with groups.
The system was first developed by Charles Hughes at the University of Central Florida (UCF) to allow teachers to hone their technique. When a teacher greets the virtual class on the large screen, or asks questions, they respond just like real students.
“It’s a little bit intimidating at first but I very quickly forgot that I wasn’t talking to real people,” says, a lecturer at UCF who has tried the system. The secret to the immersive crowd is that trained interactors control the avatars’ responses.
Eighty-five universities have adopted the technology, and more than 10,000 prospective teachers. To test how well it works,and his colleagues assessed teachers in front of a real class, then gave them four 10-minute sessions in the simulator. Their performance on measures like asking open questions and allowing children plenty of time to think before answering improved after each session.
At the teachers’ request the avatars look like cartoon characters, says Hughes. “We all know that’s fake but when you start interacting with it you feel like it’s real,” says Chini.
“The secret to the immersive crowd is that trained interactors control the avatars’ responses“
The system also monitors body position to give teachers instant feedback. “Even if we give feedback from a computer and it actually came from a human, people buy into it more because they view it as objective,” says Hughes.
A company calledis commercialising UCF’s platform to help other professions, such as doctors and police. “I’m working with police on de-escalation skills,” says Hughes. “All one has to do is read the news to know why that’s important.”
The Royal College of Music (RCM) in London uses a similar tool to help musicians with live performance. The simulator conjures up a small concert audience, or an intimate audition panel, programmed to be enthusiastic, neutral or hostile. Ringing phones and coughs create distraction. Cameras record the performances so musicians can review them later.
Business students will be next to get a virtual confidence boost. The RCM is working with Imperial College London to develop the tool for training executives in presentation skills.
This article appeared in print under the headline “Virtual confidence”
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