Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology & Associate Professor at Royal Roads University

Tag: pedagogical agents

Talking to machines: What do learners and robots talk about?

Posted on August 8th, by George Veletsianos in emerging technologies, my research, scholarship. 6 comments

Talk like me

 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.

What happens when pedagogical agents are off-task?

Posted on January 3rd, by George Veletsianos in my research, pedagogical agents, scholarship. 3 comments

Social and non-task interactions are often recognized as a valuable part of the learning experience. Talk over football, community events, or local news for example, may enable the development of positive instructor-learner relationships and a relaxed learning atmosphere. Non-task aspects of learning however have received limited attention in the education literature. Morgan-Fleming, Burley, and Price (2003) argue that this is the result of an implicit assumption that no pedagogical benefits are derived from non-task behavior, hence the reduction of off-task activities in schools such as recess time. This issue has received limited attention in the pedagogical agent literature as well. What happens when a virtual character designed to help a student learn about a topic, introduces off-task comments to a lesson? What happens when a virtual instructor mentions current events? How do learners respond?

These are the issues that I am investigating in a paper published in the current issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, as part of my research on the experiences of students who interact with virtual instructors and pedagogical agents. The abstract, citation, and link to the full paper appear below:

In this paper, I investigate the impact of non-task pedagogical agent behavior on learning outcomes, perceptions of agents’ interaction ability, and learner experiences. While quasi-experimental results indicate that while the addition of non-task comments to an on-task tutorial may increase learning and perceptions of the agent’s ability to interact with learners, this increase is not statistically significant. Further addition of non-task comments however, harms learning and perceptions of the agent’s ability to interact with learners in statistically significant ways. Qualitative results reveal that on-task interactions are efficient but impersonal, while non-task interactions were memorable, but distracting. Implications include the potential for non-task interactions to create an uncanny valley effect for agent behavior.

Veletsianos, G. (2012). How do Learners Respond to Pedagogical Agents that Deliver Social-oriented Non-task Messages? Impact on Student Learning, Perceptions, and Experiences. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 275-283.

Enhancing the interactions between pedagogical agents and learners

Posted on September 21st, by George Veletsianos in E-learning, emerging technologies, pedagogical agents. No Comments

One thing that I don’t usually post on this blog is information related to my research on pedagogical agents and virtual characters, which is one of the research strands that I’ve followed for the past 4 years. I am breaking away from that mold by posting this note : )

virtual character, pedagogical agent

Specifically, my colleagues (Aaron Doering and Charles Miller) and I developed a research and design framework to guide smooth, natural, and effective communication between learners and pedagogical agents. Our reasons for developing this framework were varied, but after four years of research and design in the field, I became convinced that to push the field forward, we needed guidance. I use the word “guidance” as opposed to the words “rules” or “laws” because we “anticipate that designers, researchers, and instructors will adapt and sculpt the guidelines of the EnALI framework into their unique instructional contexts, ultimately kindling future research and design that will expand the framework foundations.”

The framework (called Enhancing Agent Learner Interactions or EnALI) is grounded on three major theories: socio-cultural notions of learning, cooperative learning, and conflict theory. In this, we have tried to bring a humanist perspective and encourage designers and researchers to move beyond the use of pedagogical agents as dispassionate tools delivering pre-recorded lectures… but I’ll save that information for a different post. The paper is to appear in the Journal of Educational Computing Research as: Veletsianos, G., Miller, C., & Doering, A. (2009). EnALI: A Research and Design Framework for Virtual Characters and Pedagogical Agents. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 41(2), 171-194 [email me for a preprint].

The framework is posted below, but if you want a full explanation of the guidelines, please refer to the paper. As always questions, comments, and critique are appreciated:

1. Pedagogical Agents should be attentive and sensitive to the learner’s needs and wants by:

• Being responsive and reactive to requests for additional and/or expanded information.
• Being redundant.
• Asking for formative and summative feedback.
• Maintaining an appropriate balance between on- and off-task communications.

2. Pedagogical Agents should consider intricacies of the message they send to learners by:

• Making the message appropriate to the receiver’s abilities, experiences, and frame of reference.
• Using congruent verbal and nonverbal messages.
• Clearly owning the message.
• Making messages complete and specific.
• Using descriptive, non-evaluative comments.
• Describing feelings by name, action, or figure of speech.

3. Pedagogical Agents should display socially appropriate demeanor, posture, and representation by:

• Establishing credibility and trustworthiness
• Establishing role and relationship to user/task.
• Being polite and positive (e.g., encouraging, motivating)
• Being expressive (e.g. exhibiting verbal cues in speech).
• Using a visual representation appropriate to content.