Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Construction and Evaluation of Animated Teachable Agents

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Construction and Evaluation of Animated Teachable Agents

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper describes the educational technology and interface behind a model-free, customizable animated agent and its evaluation in a classroom setting for learners aged 9-11 (U.S. fifth grade). The agent, called a teachable agent, is a component of a learning system that implements the principles of learning by teaching. It is well-documented in the educational literature that the process of teaching others can be a powerful method of learning, e.g., (Armis 1983). Studies have shown that people who prepared to teach others to take a quiz on a passage learned the passage better than those who prepared to take the quiz themselves (Bargh and Schul 1980). Similarly, literature on tutoring suggests that tutors benefit as much from tutoring as their tutees (Graesser et al. 1995; Chi et al. 2001). Biswas et al. (2001) report that students preparing to teach stated that the responsibility of teaching forced them to a deeper understanding of the material; other students focused on the importance of having a clear conceptual organization of the materials.

A teachable agent (TA) environment (Biswas et al. 2005; Nichols 1994; Ramirez-Uresti and du Boulay 2004) is one where learners explicitly teach and directly receive feedback about their teaching through interactions with a computer agent. In our TA system, called Betty's Brain, students learn by teaching a computer agent called Betty to solve problems and answer questions in a variety of scientific domains using graphical cause and effect structures. Unlike previous TA work (e.g., (Michie et al. 1989; Nichols 1994; Ramirez-Uresti and du Boulay 2004)), Betty has no a priori knowledge, only an ability to reason (Davis et al. 2003; Leelawong and Biswas 2008; Viswanath et al. 2004). The agent is explicitly taught knowledge by learners, who are learning and organizing their own knowledge as they teach. Teachable agents are thus similar to pedagogical agents (Baylor and Ryu 2003; Baylor 2005; Graesser et al. 1995; Towns et al. 1998) in the sense that the agent helps create a positive learning experience and facilitates meaningful interaction between the computer and the learner (as shown by, for example, (Craig et al. 2002; Moreno and Mayer 2000; Lester et al. 1999)). However, the pedagogical agents cited above are primarily demonstrative and active tutors of knowledge, whereas a teachable agent positions itself as a learner. The effectiveness of the teachable agent environment in producing learning-related outcomes has been reported in (Davis et al. 2003; Biswas et al. 2005; Tan et al. 2006; Leelawong and Biswas 2008).

The particular goals of this article are twofold. First, we present an analysis of the user interface of the teachable agent system as it relates to its effectiveness in promoting learning related outcomes. Part of the user interface is an animated videorealistic character that serves as the teachable agent. We present the novel technical machinery that allows the construction of such an agent. We use the term videorealistic to mean that the agent is not cartoon-like (a cartoon image was used in earlier studies, e.g., (Biswas et al. 2005; Davis et al. 2003)), but looks closer to a photograph of a person. The structure of our machinery does not use an underlying graphical model, as is commonly used, e.g., (Cole et al. 1999; Elliott et al. 1999), but is based only on image data. This approach can be used to author content easily and customize the teachable agent system as desired. Authoring animation and customizing the appearance and emotional expressions of the agent is typically an expensive process, one which our method seeks to make easier. The goal of this approach is thus to create an animated agent that can reliably convey expressions and emotions that we believe are conducive to learning, in a particular environment, and for a particular class of learners. Animated teachable agents have the potential to affect learning by providing interactions that enhance the constructivist learning experience and increasing motivation through recognized social interactions (Baylor et al. …

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