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Virtual avatar prepares students for the future workforce

Photo Credit: Curtin University

A virtual avatar posing as an elderly client will travel to Curtin Singapore in September 2019 to help third-year accounting students prepare for the future workforce.

According to a recent press release, the virtual avatar will act as a virtual client for students from both campuses of Curtin in Perth, Australia and in Singapore.

Doing this will help the students improve their interpersonal communication skills as well as build trust and rapport with potential clients.

Getting to know Jim

‘Jim’, the virtual avatar, was developed by Associate Professor Janet Beilby, from the University’s School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology in 2014.

According to her, the use of virtual avatars was innovative in teaching practices and could be used to train students in a range of different scenarios before they enter the workforce.

Jim was initially developed to help healthcare workers improve their patient empathy skills, particularly when dealing with patients who are living with dementia.

To achieve this, Jim took on the role of a frustrated elderly farmer living with dementia. The students were then required to help him through a series of difficult situations and conversations.

How can Jim help?

The success that Jim had proven with healthcare students prompted the developers to see if he could be used to help business and accounting students in the Perth campus as well as at Curtin’s international campuses to improve their communication skills.

Part of the requirements for the students is to help put Jim at ease while he is waiting for his appointment with a senior accountant.

This will teach students how to respond to an elderly client, creating a valuable learning experience that will help them develop for their future career.

It is critical to create new learning experiences for students because employers are looking for graduates who are, as they say, able to “hit the ground running” when entering the workforce.

An Associate Professor from the University’s School of Accounting explained that it is significant to identify new teaching methods that can help students thrive once they graduate, given the ever changing education landscape.

Using a virtual avatar provides a safe and cost-effective way for students to practice their communication skills before they work with real-life clients.

Jim could potentially be used across multiple disciplines to provide students with an opportunity to develop critical communication skills before entering the workforce.

The project was made possible by a Curtin Learning and Teaching Innovation Grant.

Jim helped students at Curtin’s Perth campus from 29 July – 02 August 2019 and will be travelling to Curtin Singapore on 13 September 2019.

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