The 4th edition of the Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology recently arrived at my office.
My graduate student and I have a chapter in this 1000-page volume (!) that attempts to summarize the 2005-2011 literature focusing on pedagogical agents and virtual characters. We believe that this chapter can help orient individuals to the field and its research literature. The approach that we followed was simple: We first analyzed the claims made about pedagogical agents in the literature. Then, we presented the empirical evidence surrounding those claims.
The abstract summarizes our findings:
In this chapter we synthesize the pedagogical agent literature published during 2005–2011. During these years, researchers have claimed that pedagogical agents serve a variety of educational purposes such as being adaptable and versatile; engendering realistic simulations; addressing learners’ sociocultural needs; fostering engagement, motivation, and responsibility; and improving learning and performance. Empirical results supporting these claims are mixed, and results are often contradictory. Our investigation of prior literature also reveals that current research focuses on the examination of cognitive issues through the use of experimental and quasi-experimental methods. Nevertheless, sociocultural investigations are becoming increasingly popular, while mixed methods approaches, and to a lesser extent interpretive research, are garnering some attention in the literature. Suggestions for future research include the deployment of agents in naturalistic contexts and open-ended environments, and investigation of agent outcomes and implications in long-term interventions.
As always, a pdf of the paper is available below.
Veletsianos, G. & Russell, G. (2014). Pedagogical Agents. In Spector, M., Merrill, D., Elen, J., & Bishop, MJ (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 4th Edition (pp. 759-769). Springer Academic.
If you believe that educational technology startups can learn a thing or two from educators and education researchers in their quest to improve education, then we’d love your vote for our 2014 SXSWedu proposal.
Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, Audrey Watters and I have proposed a panel during which we will discuss how educators/researchers can help startups improve their education technology offerings, and answer questions pertaining to education research, how people learn, and classroom practice. If we want meaningful and transformational change in how we do education, it is imperative for
entrepreneurs and educators/researchers to converse. We’ve called for this over and over. And it’s not just us four that have noticed a disconnect between what educational technologies companies do and what we know about education and learning:
In discussing the flipped classroom model Schneider, Blikstein, and Pea note that “by failing to pay attention to the research, we were applying what is possibly a good idea in the wrong way. That’s why research in education is crucially important to improve our schools. Intuitions are good, but science is better.”
Neil Selwyn notes “The current understanding of schools in the digital age [is] hampered by a curious amnesia, forgetfulness or even willful ignorance of past phases of technology development and implementation…”
Rolin Moe argues, “In education, innovators and disruptors consistently reinvent the wheel, hyping revolutionary ideas that are often unaware of existing research, replications of prior models, or proud of their ignorance of history of the field’s theory and pedagogy.”
In short, our panel will provide answers to the following questions:
1. How can educational technology startups use knowledge generated through education research to improve their products and services?
2. How can educational technology startups partner with educators, researchers, and educational institutions to improve their
3. Why have education technology innovations failed in the past, and what can startups learn from those experiences, so as to avoid making the same mistakes?
If you feel that we have something meaningful to add to the conversation about how technology, pedagogy, and emerging ideas can improve education, then we’d love your vote.
Talk like me by pursyapt
My research endeavors originally started with an attempt to understand interactions between learners and virtual characters, bots, and other artificially intelligent beings. Even though a lot of that research has been published, there’s still a couple of papers arriving. As we are moving closer and closer to everything (and i mean everything) being networked, I believe that it’s important to keep on examining our mediated existence and the ways we experience and interact with emerging forms of media. This is especially true for education. Until very recently, educators and practitioners have been adopting technologies developed for non-educational purposes and using them to fit education needs (e.g., TV, Radio, computers, the Internet, YouTube, iTunes, the list is endless). This might be changing a little bit with the booming interest in educational technology, but when we adopt technologies developed for other purposes, we need to investigate the congruency between those technologies and our teaching/learning context.
In a paper that a graduate student and I wrote, we tried to understand what learners and virtual characters may discuss when they have the ability to have open-ended conversations. If you were a student, and a virtual robot (of sorts) was deployed to support your learning, what would you ask it (him?her?)? If you could talk about anything, what your interactions with him/her (it?) look like?
Here’s our abstract, describing our findings:
Researchers claim that pedagogical agents engender opportunities for social learning in digital environments. Prior literature, however, has not thoroughly examined the discourse between agents and learners. To address this gap, we analyzed a data corpus of interactions between agents and learners using open coding methods. Analysis revealed that: (1) conversations between
learners and agents included sporadic on-task interactions with limited follow-up; (2) conversations were often playful and lighthearted; (3) learners positioned agents in multiple instructional/social roles; (4) learners utilized numerous strategies for understanding agent responses; (5) learners were interested in agents’ relationship status and love interests; and (6) learners
asked personal questions to the agent but did not reciprocate to requests to talk about themselves.
You can download a pdf of the full paper below:
Veletsianos, G. & Russell, G. (2013). What do learners and pedagogical agents discuss when given opportunities for open-ended dialogue? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 48(3), 381-401.
Doctoral students are often asked to take a preliminary written exam as part of their degree, and they are often unclear of what those questions look like. They visit with their adviser, ask friends, and ask past students to get an idea of what those pesky preliminary exam questions may be. I like to give examples to my students of the type of questions that I like to ask, and I thought that others might find these useful, so I am posting a few below.
Writing, 22 November 2008 (photo by ed_needs_a_bicycle)
1. Summarize two major debates in the field, and clearly articulate your own position on each debate. Cite relevant research to support your stance.
2. Moos and Honkomp (2011), in their paper entitled Adventure Learning: Motivating Students in a Minnesota Middle school, state: “Though adventure learning offers exciting possibilities to engage students and facilitate deep, meaningful learning, it is not without substantial challenges and issues to consider.” What kinds of instructional, learning, and organizational challenges do you think adventure learning poses?
3. “Technology integration” is a persistent theme in the educational technology literature. Recently, scholars have sought to refine the notion of “technology integration” and have discussed transformative uses of technology. What is transformative education and transformative technology integration? What does culturally- and contextually-relevant technology integration look like?
4. In a survey of 459 university students and 159 university faculty members, Malesky and Peters (in press) found that “over one-third of the students and a quarter of the faculty participants reported that it is inappropriate for faculty members to have accounts on [Social Networking Sites].” Why might students consider faculty members’ use of social networking sites inappropriate? Use both empirical and theoretical literature to support your arguments.
5. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) argue that for novice learners minimally guided instruction (i.e. a situation in which learners discover or construct essential information for themselves) is inefficient and ineffective. These authors argue that direct instruction (i.e. “providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures that students are required to learn”) is the
most effective and efficient approach to learning. How would Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark respond to the idea of “tinkering?” What position would you take in this debate in your dissertation? In your answer, make sure to cite related research to support your arguments.
Something to note prior to using these as a study guide though: Preliminary written exams differ from university to university. When I took mine at the University of Minnesota, if I recall well, I had eight hours to respond in detail to two questions. There was a take-home portion to that exam as well. At the Learning Technologies program at UT-Austin, we give students four hours to answer four out of the five questions we provide. At both instances access to resources (e.g., the Internet) is limited*.
* We can debate the authenticity and relevancy of limiting access to resources, but that may be an issue better suited for a different post. On the one hand, these individuals will have access to resources when they are doing their work in the future, so why limit them? On the other hand, they will encounter situations in which they have to respond without consulting an outside resource – e.g., during a job talk.