A researcher in Florida is trying to see if students react better to computerized learning situations if the virtual teacher is more lifelike and attractive to them. Part of the idea is to inject a bit more "soul" into these virtual teachers, and hopefully make it so students feel more interested in what they have to say. While this might seem like something of a gimmick, some of the early results are positive (though, the message seems a bit mixed). A study was conducted using female math and science students, and the ones who interacted with the agents reported more "positive beliefs" about the subject matter than those who didn't use one of these virtual agents. Of course, there are a lot of other variables that could have impacted these results, so it's hard to say much definitive about them just yet. It's also worth noting that the students said they liked a "cool" female agent as a person they'd want to be like, but still preferred a geeky male agent (complete with bow tie) as a teacher when asked to choose.
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