Learning is Moving in New Ways: A Virtual Teacher for the Mathematics Imagery Trainer
People learn through interacting with the world. Yet when computers first entered educational practice, they provided limited forms of interaction, because the user-interfaces were not yet sophisticated enough. But now we have natural user-interfaces such as Wii, Kinect, and touchscreen tablets that are once again allowing educational designers to build activities in which students interact with objects. Often these are virtual objects, but they elicit and shape essentially the same perceptual and action patterns as what we find with concrete objects. What about virtual teachers? We want virtual teachers to be able to speak, gesture, and manipulate the virtual objects and gesture about these actions. Animation software now enables us to create virtual characters that move their hands in ways that look quite naturalistic. The virtual teacher needs a virtual brain, too. State-of-the-art artificial intelligence is now allowing students to receive customized feedback from software as they interact with technology. All these innovations have created an opportunity to design an interactive human-like teacher or “pedagogical agent” that intelligently and responsively supports the mathematical learning of students as they engage in interactive work with virtual objects in a computer interface. A collaborative project of UC Davis (Neff) and UC Berkeley (Abrahamson) is developing and evaluating a pedagogical agent that is inserted into an interactive learning environment, the Mathematical Imagery Trainer.
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