Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) assistant professor of computer science Jacob Whitehill is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU Boulder) to explore how artificially intelligent (AI) teaching agents might help encourage more meaningful collaboration among students in school classrooms.

As part of a five-year, $20 million grant awarded to CU Boulder, Whitehill and colleagues at nine other institutions will study how to build AI agents that interact with students in small-group collaborative problem-solving settings and thereby foster more enriching learning experiences for students.

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“There is so much evidence that students learn best when they learn actively and collaborate with each other in real time,” says Whitehill, who specializes in AI and machine learning. “But that’s not always easy for teachers to achieve, whether the collaboration is happening in a physical classroom or during remote learning.”

Under the grant, of which WPI will receive almost $612,000, Whitehill and his colleagues will work with two public school districts in Colorado, building and testing different forms of “AI Partners” in the classroom–ranging from a simple iPad with a camera and microphone, to animated interactive avatars that perceive and understand students’ language, gestures, facial expressions.

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Jessica Messier is a member of the public relations team at WPI. She is responsible for news mining among the fascinating research and human interest stories at WPI, and getting those stories to local, national, and trade publications. She has ten years of experience working in journalism and communications fields.