Cultivating Research for Engaging Advanced Technology in Education

Research Projects

Inclusive Design for Engaging All Learners (IDEAL)

The project IDEAL investigates the use of an embodied, humanoid robot as a cultural broker that mediates young childrenís collaboration. As children start schooling, they come with a unique way of thinking and doing that are embedded implicitly and explicitly in their home cultures. Being able to work with others is an essential skill for the children to adjust to the new environment (e.g., the classroom and school), as well as being foundational to gaining confidence and achieving academic success.

The project experiments with robot brokering in a socio-technical triad with a robot and children. The robot mediates the children to do things together and co-create artifacts while they learn early academic topics and skills. Using Wizard of Oz and ethnographic observations, the project will generate the robotís mediating utterances that can also be implemented in other advanced, embodied technologies as technology evolves.


Designing Engaging and Affable Robot (DEAR)

For young children, learning is playing. They learn in a social context while they play with others, observing and interacting with them. Creating a social context, therefore, is critical in designing learning technology for young children.

The DEAR team designs and studies the efficacy of robot-based educational apps for kindergarten-aged children who learn fundamentals of school subjects in the US and other countries. An embodied, toy-like robot acts like a friend. Children learn the topic naturally while playing a game with the robot and helping the robot solve a problem, individually or in a small group. This experience could stimulate children's interest and engagement in the topic and increase their learning.

DEAR Apps for SK-Telecom

Since December 2012, our team has been working on the development of English learning applications, sponsored by the international corporation SK-Telecom ( The target learners are the children in preschool through elementary school, who learn English as a second/foreign language. To date, three 10-minute apps have been developed to teach shapes, colors, and letter-sound correspondence. The learning activities include singing along with the robot, playing games, and exploring an I-spy book where children are asked to help find the passcode to launch the robot's spaceship.

In an iterative cycle of the development process, we conducted multiple rounds of design and user testing during the spring of 2013.

Conditions of User Testing:

  • Contexts: school and home
  • Ages of children: 3 -7 years old
  • Home languages: Spanish, Chinese, Korean, & Somali
  • Number of sessions each child had with the robot: 1 - 5
  • Number of children using the robot at the same time: 1 - 2

All the children persistently engaged in the play with the robot for over an hour each time and desired to play more. None of the children tested in schools were distracted by environmental noises created by the teacher and classmates in the same room. The children effectively mimicked the robot's speech in English, regardless of their English proficiency levels.


  • Yanghee Kim, Ph.D.
  • Kathleen Mohr, Ph.D.
  • Diantha Smith
  • Nathan Sayre
  • Namju Kim
  • Tianyu Chen
  • Ryan Burdo
Math Girls

Research indicates that girls’ negative views of the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are often due to social and cultural influences. Family, schools, and media are likely to impose stereotypic role expectations on girls and infuse girls with ideal “Barbie doll” img of girls.

Girls need to be exposed to social environments that will encourage them to overcome ungrounded social stereotypes and build constructive views of their competency in STEM. Although the stereotypic views of family, teachers, or friends cannot be immediately changed or influenced, girl-friendly virtual social environments can be created to help girls build positive attitudes toward STEM.

This project is an investigation of the educational potential of virtual peers, often called pedagogical agents as learning companions (PALs), to change high school girls’ negative self-img and attitudes toward STEM, moving them in a desirable direction. The goals of the project include 1) investigating the effectiveness of PALs in facilitating girls’ self-confidence and efficacy in learning math and 2) investigating the characteristics of PALs critical to that end.

MathGirls Team

  • Yanghee Kim, Ph.D.
  • Nicholas Flann, Ph.D.
  • Christine Hailey, Ph.D.
  • Vessela Ilieva
  • Beijie Xu
  • Quan Wei
  • Zheng Lu
  • Rajesh Kolla
  • Jason Foust
  • Michael Capell
  • Babu Sarah
  • Zhongshan Lin

The Affable Reading Tutor (ART) project is aimed at developing and obtaining evidence of potential efficacy of computer-based strategy instruction for children in grades 4 through 5 who start “reading to comprehend.” Given the positive impact of reciprocal peer tutoring in classrooms, this environment will include digital human-like characters (PALs, Pedagogical Agents as Learning companions) designed as simulated peers.

As a simulated peer tutor, a PAL is designed to demonstrate or model the use of metacognitive strategies for effectively comprehending expository texts and to scaffold the strategy use of a learner. By providing interactive scaffolding, the PAL may reduce the learner's cognitive load.

Also, the learner can practice strategy use by teaching a less competent PAL, which may motivate the learner to be engaged in the task, help enhance the learners' self-efficacy beliefs, and facilitate the learner to make use of the learned strategies with desirable frequency.

ART Team