A Deeper Look at Ferris State University’s Experiment with Virtual Students in Hybrid Courses
Ferris State University has garnered attention for introducing virtual students, Ann and Fry, into its hybrid courses as part of its broader investment in artificial intelligence (AI). While this initiative aims to enhance the student experience and foster social interaction, it prompts intriguing questions, drawing parallels to the role of non-player characters (NPCs) in video games. This article delves into the potential implications, considering the psychological aspects of human-AI interaction and the parallels with NPC engagement in gaming.
Virtual Students and NPCs: A Comparative Analysis
In the realm of video games, non-player characters (NPCs) play pivotal roles, contributing to rich digital worlds with intricate narratives and emotional engagement. Players often form attachments to these digital entities, experiencing a sense of social presence and reflecting on meaningful gaming interactions. The parallels between virtual students like Ann and Fry and NPCs raise questions about the psychological dynamics involved in human-AI interaction.
Creating Backstories for Social Presence
Ferris State’s approach involves assigning backstories to virtual students, mimicking the narratives of NPCs in gaming. The creation of these backstories, based on real student experiences, aims to establish social presence and enhance the overall classroom experience. This strategy aligns with research indicating that autonomous NPCs contribute to heightened social presence in digital environments (Brandstätter et al., 2021).
Community of Inquiry Model in Hybrid Education
The Community of Inquiry model, introduced by Garrison et al. (1999), emphasizes the importance of social presence in online classrooms. Ferris State’s incorporation of virtual students aligns with the model’s principles, aiming to create a sense of community and engagement among students and instructors. The model suggests that a strong sense of social presence enhances the quality of online learning experiences.
Challenges and Cautionary Considerations
While the introduction of virtual students may enhance social dynamics, potential challenges and ethical considerations arise. Questions about the quality of engagement, the potential replication of biased content, and the role of virtual students in monitoring classroom behavior warrant careful examination. The article highlights concerns related to ethical guidelines, faculty supervision, and the risk of virtual students being used for surveillance purposes.
Balancing Gamification and Academic Integrity
The notion of introducing NPCs or virtual students in higher education introduces an element of gamification. However, caution is essential to ensure that academic integrity is not compromised. The potential for virtual students to impact classroom discussions positively must be balanced with safeguards against undesirable behaviors or unintended consequences.
Ferris State University’s experiment with virtual students sparks a thought-provoking exploration of the intersection between AI and human interaction in higher education. Drawing parallels with video game NPCs, the initiative reflects a broader trend toward enhancing social presence and community in online learning environments. As the educational landscape evolves, careful consideration of the psychological, ethical, and academic implications will be crucial in navigating the integration of AI-driven elements into traditional classrooms.