AI Learning Companions to help raise literacy standards

Last Updated on Wednesday, 3 February, 2021 at 9:09 am by Andre Camilleri

The Centre for Literacy of the University of Malta is spearheading a project called AILit, which is using Artificial Intelligence in an innovative way to promote literacy with 8-10-year-olds and their parents.

Through the programme, educators, 8 to 10-year-old children and their parents will be using an open source platform to participate in creative programming activities in which they learn how to build games, program AI learning companions (puppets) and train their own AI models. Some of the activities are mediated by embodied intelligent agents which help learners scaffold learning and collaborate better.

Conversational agents and connected toys are becoming common in homes. Increasing exposure to “intelligent” technology raises important questions about the ways that children understand it and how they could learn with and from it. Embodied intelligent agents, such as social robots, afford longer-term engagement in the home and school for children and their families. Through an open source platform, children and parents can learn to program with embodied intelligent agents which in turn become learning companions. The goal is to enable learners to interact with a social robot but also program it, train it to remember and learn things over time, and have reflective conversations with their peers prompted by it.

As part of this AI in Education project we will be able to consider why, how and when can embodied intelligent companions support children and parents to learn via reflective teaching. We will address these questions by allowing children and parents to use a visual programming interface, and to control and customize an embodied intelligent agent.

Professor Charles L. Mifsud, the Director of the Centre for Literacy, has said that: “The project will help us to answer questions about what are the new intergenerational learning pathways that such companions can facilitate, and how can these future learning companions be integrated into various learning applications, and what are the generalizable design considerations. This will be done in a fun way through interactive reading for pleasure with puppets and literacy games.”

The AILit project is undertaken in conjunction with the National Literacy Agency, and supported by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority.

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