Everybody can agree that the number of teachers versus students significantly effects the quality of education. With a high number of students to each teacher, the courses have to be adapted to the group and less attention payed to each students characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. I’ve been aware of this pesty fact through my own experience of school and consider it a noteworthy problem of modern education. So, let’s mass produce teachers to come to the rescue.
Montreal based company uMind made news yesterday with their AI eLearning software. Claude Frasson, founder of uMind, describes the system as an artificially intelligent tutor that actively evaluates the emotional distress, weaknesses and strengths of the student. Using this information as a basis, it custom-builds course material as the student advances. Taking a look at their webpage header, you’ll notice that education software is a looker as well. A virtual humanoid named Aimy. Via the Gazette:
“Intelligence means adapting to the learner and understanding the capability of the learner,” said Frasson, founder and president of uMind. “In any exam, you have a lot of learners who are able to succeed. We have found all the mechanisms (that help students succeed) and we have applied them to eLearning.”
Launched in March, uMind employs AI to create a virtual tutor that recognizes and adapts to the student’s limitations and emotional distress. The instructor knows when a student is stumped and activates extra teaching modules on the specific subject.
But have we reached a point where this kind of software actually does any good? Does it rival us meatmachines? Not really. But Frasson estimates that this approach, when compared to traditional eLearning, cuts the learning time in half and increases the student retention by 35%. The program also includes a virtual reality type mode, which has been used by the Montreal Transit Company to train employees in handling emergencies. Early estimates indicate training costs close to being reduced by 50%. (That’s according to this one article and man, I haven’t properly confirmed it.)
Hannes Vilhjalmsson over here at RU’s AI lab CADIA has worked on similar virtual environments for education in the past. His Tactical Language and Culture Training systems (TLCTS, developed at ISI) are aimed at training language skills and have, for example, been used by the US military to train soldiers in speaking Iraqi and Pashto.
From his webpage:
The objective of these series of projects was to develop tools to support individualized language learning, and apply them to the acquisition of the linguistic, gestural, and cultural knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish specific tasks in a foreign environment.
In short, the student plays a “serious game” where, in order to sucessfully accomplish his missions, he has to interact verbally with artificially intelligent agents. For those interested, these projects use the open source Unreal game engine. Really cool stuff, and you can imagine how much I wish I had this kind of system to train me german and danish in my younger years.