M. Ulm, M. Brickmann, E. Krajnc

The body and the behavior/movement of the partners within a communication are important in all kinds of communication. Body language is vital for lecturers to gather information about the current level of attentiveness of the audience.

Voice and text communication are the main techniques used in online learning environments. Webcams or other technical equipment used to show the users directly are not very often used, mainly because of the lack of bandwidth and the fact that the lecturer is not able to monitor all the attendees within the course. These problems also occur at other fields of online communication like gaming.

The usage of avatars – visualizations of the users – is not new, the usage of this static pictures or virtual corpses as representatives for the users is very common in the field of gaming, especially in online gaming. These avatars are mainly used to give an impression how the users connected to the username look like, or want to look like. Typically there is a big difference in the appearance of the avatar and the real user. Some users change genders, age, body measurements or hairstyle, it is also possible that users can use cartoonized images of an uploaded photo of themselves as avatars.
Synchronous online – or distance – learning scenarios, where the lecturer and the students attend the same online room at the same time suffer from two main problems. Lack of direct non-verbal feedback from the students and the lack of responsive avatars.
The first problem could theoretically be solved by using webcams, so the lecturer would get direct visual feedback of the level of attendance of the students. In practice this is not easy to handle because the lecturer would have to view the video streams of all the students while educating, in classes with docents of students this is simply not possible.
The second problem is kind of a technical, high end scanning equipment would have to be used by every student, to scan their faces permanently, so the avatars used could be responsive and give the lecturer an impression about the current mental state of the student.

This paper shows the problems, lecturers are facing when giving synchronous online lessons. The first we recognized the importance of the body in the communication and as follows also in the virtual online communication. Second we identify the difficulty to virtualize the human body. So we need to think about new methods to find a comfortable way to digitize parts of the human body language to transform these parts into a visualization. But why we need a visualization of the human body language?

Let's think about a standard class room at the university or at school. The lecturer is able to see all participants and take care about the current reactions, e.g. yawning, be curious or digressing, during the lecture. At online class room the lecturer has no possiblity to see those reactions, feelings or moods of the participants. The only common reactions is silence of the virtual world.