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Empathetic Tutoring Agents

Theme: Natural Language Generation
Funding Agency: Self-funded part-time PhD
Period: 2007 - 2013

This PhD project examines the prospects of using empathy in an Embodied Tutoring System (ETS) that guides students through an online quiz (by providing feedback on student answers and responding to self-reported student mood). The main hypothesis is that interaction with an empathic ETS results in greater learning gains than a neutral ETS, primarily because the student motivation is enhanced is through empathic feedback.

In a preparatory study we investigated different strategies for expressing emotion by the ETS. We established that a multimodal strategy (controlling speech, gestures and facial expressions) achieves the best results regarding how accurately human participants can recognise the emotions. This approach was used in our empathic ETS.

The preparatory study was followed by two studies in which we compared a neutral with an empathic ETS. The ETS in the second of these studies was developed using results from the first study. There was no statistically significant difference in learning gains between the two ETS. We did, however, find that type of ETS and student score on an empathy tendency test interacted. We also analysed the subjective response of learners to the two systems.

Based on our studies in a formal class room setting, we arrived at a number of recommendations for deploying this type of technology in schools.

 

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