Can we build Passionate Intelligent Tutoring Systems? Promoting Engagement and Learning with Pedagogical Agents

February 21, 2014 | Edinburgh, UK

Speaker: H. Chad Lane
Host: The Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation - University of Edinburgh

The continued intersection of affective computing, educational games, and intelligent learning technologies has produced heightened interest in the construct of engagement and its role in learning. Although games researchers have largely dominated this conversation, in this talk I will focus on the application of embodied virtual agents to the challenge of promoting learning, sparking interest, and sustaining engagement. In work funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, we designed and built three virtual humans that now inhabit the Boston Museum of Science (MOS) and interact with thousands of visitors a month. These animated, life-sized characters seek to promote general interest in STEM and motivate museum visitors to want to know more about computer science, robotics, and technology. I will discuss our experiences building the virtual human twins Ada and Grace, who answer general questions about themselves and technology, as well as Coach Mike, a pedagogical agent that teaches basic programming skills at an exhibit known as “Robot Park”. These characters seek not only to convey knowledge, but also to entertain visitors and increase engagement through humour, animation, and speech. They were designed with the intention of being role models for young learners. I will summarize the results from a 3-month evaluation and discuss lessons learned from deployment. As time permits, I will describe a future of pedagogical agents that are (1) passionate about what they teach, and (2) genuinely happy when they successfully promote learning for those they try to help.