Effective Tutoring with Empathic Embodied Conversational Agents

Moyo, Sharon G. (2014). Effective Tutoring with Empathic Embodied Conversational Agents. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00009f63


This thesis examines the prospect 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 emotion). The ETS seeks to imitate human behaviours successfully used in one-to-one human tutorial interactions. The main hypothesis is that the interaction with an empathic ETS results in greater learning gains than a neutral ETS, primarily by encouraging positive and reducing negative student emotions using empathic feedback.
In a preparatory study we investigated different strategies for expressing emotion by the ETS. We established that a multimodal strategy achieves the best results regarding how accurately human participants can recognise the emotions. This approach was used in developing the feedback strategy for 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 of these studies. In both studies, we found no statistically significant difference in learning gains between the neutral and empathic ETS. However, we did discover a number of interactions between the ETS system, learning gains and, in particular 1) student scores on an empathic tendency test and 2) student ability. We also analysed the subjective responses and the relation between self-reported emotions during the quiz and student learning gains.
Based on our studies in a formal class room setting, we assess the prospects of using empathic agents in a classroom setting and describe a number of requirements for their effective use.

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