EXP: Collaborative Research: Gesture Enhancement of Virtual Agent Mathematics Tutors

PI: Dor Abrahamson, University of California-Berkeley (Award Details)
Michael Neff, University of California-Davis (Award Details)

In this Cyberlearning: Transforming Education EXP project, PIs from computer science and mathematics education are collaborating to investigate the use of gestures by teachers (both human and virtual) and learners in support of mathematics learning. They are investigating the ways teachers’ gestures influence learning of mathematics concepts and how to design gestural supports for learning that a computer avatar might use in communicating with a learner. Their conceptual foundations come from embodied cognition, and they are aiming towards understanding the integration of two types of gestures: those that are used to promote understanding of content and those used for social purposes. The project focuses on learning of proportion, and the technological innovation in this project is creation of a gesturing pedagogical agent/avatar that has a rich repertoire of both types of gestures that it uses while interacting with a learner and helping the learner to deepen his or her understanding of the mathematics of proportion. In a series of design studies, the PIs are designing software and extracting principles for augmenting pedagogical agents with new gesture-enriched capabilities and gleaning insights into the nature, types, and roles of gesture in educational interaction.

Despite consistent reform efforts, U.S. students still lag behind their global peers in mathematics understanding and capabilities. Intelligent tutoring systems can be used to provide one-on-one help to students who are struggling as they learn mathematics, but such interactions lack the social cues that help learners maintain their attention and know they are being understood and lack, as well, full means of expressing concepts in ways that learners might need for understanding. Good teachers use gestures for these purposes, and this project focuses on design of pedagogical agents (avatars) that will also be able to use such gestures. Infusing interactive tutoring systems with the ability to gesture in naturalistic and domain-appropriate ways may provide a missing link in making tutorial interactions effective for more learners. At the same time, insights gleaned about the pedagogical roles of gesturing can be leveraged in educating teachers of the future.

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