This course explores social interactions in virtual reality, specifically with embodied conversational agents (ECAs) and with virtual avatars. ECAs are computer programs that have a visual representation and support some forms of natural social interaction. Virtual avatars are similar, except that they are digital representations of other humans. With regard to ECAs, we will discuss a range of topics including social presence, the role of behavioral and visual fidelity on perceived realism, design guidelines, relational agents, teachable agents, and training applications. With regard to avatars, we will discuss self presence, the body ownership illusion, and how characteristics of your avatar can unconsciously impact your behavior.
This course is strongly research oriented. We will not be developing ECAs or avatars in this course. Instead, we will focus on understanding and synthesizing existing research literature in order to understand how to design ECAs and avatars so as to achieve specific objectives. Assignments will include finding and presenting research papers relevant to the class, proposing novel research questions pertaining to ECAs and virtual avatars, designing a research experiment to address a proposed question, and a group assignment to prepare a survey paper concerning a specific aspect of ECAs or virtual avatars (e.g. persuasion effects of virtual agents, or effective virtual avatar design for social change).