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Joseph E. Michaelis receives grant to develop robot for homework help

Joseph Michaelis

Assistant Professor Joseph E. Michaelis has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to develop a social robot to assist students with their science homework. In an effort to mimic the social interactions in class that are conducive to learning, the robot tool, PATHWiSE, aims to improve the home learning experience for students by empowering teachers to create custom robot-assisted lessons for their students.

Teachers often help students in science classrooms by providing guidance, including offering up subtle cues to what students might notice about their learning, restating key points in what others are explaining, or asking students questions to explain their reasoning.

Educational technologies typically provide some lesson support, but most systems fail to provide personal connections and guidance like what students find in the classroom. While some social robotic learning tools exist, they do not allow teachers to customize their lesson plans. Teachers will be able to create embedded comments for the robots to say to students while learning at home that can be tailored to the specific learning needs of that student.

“We see PATHWiSE as a way for teachers to further connect with their students while they work outside of the classroom. By creating lessons with a social robot, teachers can infuse their humor and personal style into homework to transform homework questions into conversations,” Michaelis said. “This work goes beyond adaptive learning – it helps learning feel personal.”

Michaelis and other researchers will work with middle school science teachers and students in the design of the robot, and a teacher authoring tool, PATHWiSE, the Personalized Augmentation Tool for HomeWork in Science Education. PATHWISE overlays trigger-action pairs directly onto multimedia homework activities controlled by the teacher, who will indicate where in the homework to provide guidance.

The research will culminate in a four-week study where teachers will create augmented homework assignments for their science classes, and their students will complete these assignments at home with either the robot or a similar computer-based system.

Michaelis divides his time between the computer science department, and the Learning Science Institute, and the grant is for interdisciplinary work between the two entities. The $350,000 grant, Collaborative Research: HCC: Small: PATHWiSE – Supporting Teacher Authoring of Robot-Assisted Homework, is Michaelis’ first NSF grant. It is part of an overall effort with Bilge Mutlu, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with overall funding of $600,000.