Intelligent Tutors that care too

Ah, the future of artificial-intelligence tutoring looks very cool!  According to a recent article in EdWeek, a new trend in the intelligent-tutoring arena involves integrating social and emotional support.  The concept is simple – “pedagogical agents” (or animated characters) are now able to not only offer content-specific feedback based on students’ responses but also are able to detect students’ emotional changes and mirror those feelings and offer encouragement.  The system picks up students’ emotional states through hundreds of sensors embedded in the computer, students’ chairs (to recognize different postures), as well as through sensors worn like a bracelet around students’ wrists.  In a project developed by the University of Massachusetts and Arizona State, students’ passing rates on state tests were 10 percent higher after a week of lessons with the tutor than they were for peers who spent the same amount of time learning geometry in a regular classroom, according to Beverly Park Woolf, a research professor in computer science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a leading researcher on the project.  More research needs to be conducted but the potential is there.  Major funders of such projects are the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.