IDENTITY PROJECTION IN
AVATARS AND MOTIVATION
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (Federal University of
Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico
(National Council of Technological and Scientific Development)
The word ‘avatar’, according to the Oxford
Dictionary of English Etymology (Onions,
1966), originates from Sanskrit and means
the descent of an entity and its incarnation
in human form.
In the virtual context, Peterson (2005)
suggests the following definition: “Avatars
are online manifestations of self in a virtual
world (Kim, 2000) and are designed to
enhance interaction in virtual space.”(p. 30).
Similar to Gods manipulating humans, the
avatar owners can execute certain actions
through their graphic representations that
they would probably not be able to carry out
in real life.
In the educational area, avatars can be used
as a mask to protect identities and motivate.
They work as an alternative to reduce stress
in the performance of certain learning tasks.
Voki (http://voki.com/) is a partially free
application for creating animated avatars,
with the option of using a real or synthesized
“When students create their avatar, they
also give it personal features such as eye
color, hair color, and facial expressions. In
many instances, avatars are a direct
representation of the student, but for
others, the avatar represents the student’s
ideal self”. (Hérbet et al, 2004:97)
“Designing personalized three-
dimensional avatars gives the kids a
risk-free chance to explore their
identity. Avatars don't look quite as real
as photographs, but they aren't totally
abstract, either. They're just different
enough from real life to make them an
ideal device for toying with
appearances”. Boss (2009)
I investigated a set of avatars created by students
of English attending an online course on oral skills,
in the first semester of this year.
First task: a personal introduction through a Voki
The goals of the study were to verify:
(1) if the students reproduced their physical
features when creating their avatars or if they
played with their appearance and projected
(2) if the avatars motivated students to speak;
(3) if the avatars decreased inhibition and
(4) If students would prefer avatar do video
recording or face to face interaction.
Avatars in formal and informal introductions
25 avatars (1 dog)
9 used the same avatar
15 chose different avatars
23 students chose avatars that reproduced
features of their profile photos on Moodle.(skin
color, use of glasses, hair length and color)
His avatars are different from his photograph,
although he wears a goatee as in the second
avatar. But he also wears a moustache.
He has dark skin and very short black hair. He is a
The avatars motivated students to
speak and decreased inhibition.
Students said they preferred avatar do
video recording or face to face
Why do they prefer the avatars?
1. It is not necessary to take care of
appearance and background;
2. No problem with noise;
3. Shyness when recording videos;
4. Focus on the content and not on the
quality of audio, light, camera and
Why do they prefer the avatars?
5. Not showing the real face decreases
anxiety and we do not need facial
expressions and gestures;
6. It is funny;
7. Avatar is easier;
8. Avatar is simple and practical;
9. Makes me more comfortable.
Students learned to use avatars and enjoyed
the task. Avatars decreased their shyness.
They felt motivated to speak English
mediated by avatars.
Students can use the voice synthesizer to
practice pronunciation before recording
their own voice.