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‘Jim the avatar’ to help train accounting students at Curtin Singapore

Media release

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

artifactial intelligence concept with virtual human avatar.3d illustration

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

‘Jim’, who will act as a virtual client for students from both Curtin’s Singapore and Perth campuses, will help to improve their interpersonal communication skills and build trust and rapport with potential future clients.

Associate Professor Beilby said 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.

“We first developed ‘Jim’ to help healthcare workers improve their patient empathy skills, especially when dealing with patients living with dementia. ‘Jim’ took on the role of a frustrated elderly farmer living with dementia and students were required to help him through a series of difficult situations and conversations,” Associate Professor Beilby said.

“Given the success of Jim with healthcare students, we also wanted to see if he could be used to help business and accounting students both in Perth and at Curtin’s international campuses improve their communication skills.

“The students will be required to help put him at ease while ‘Jim’ 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.”

Associate Professor Alina Lee, from the School of Accounting at Curtin University, said it was important to create new learning experiences for students, as employers are looking for graduates who are able to “hit the ground running” when entering the workforce.

“Given the changing education landscape, it is critical to identify new teaching methods that can help students thrive once they graduate,” Associate Professor Lee said.

“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 July 29 to August 2 and will be travelling to Curtin Singapore on September 13.