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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Botlike Book Can Fetch Answers

Artificial intelligence, the technology that enables robots to respond to their environment like humans, may also help improve how college students interact with textbooks. A small project conducted in 2012 showed students who studied with an AI-enhanced digital textbook earned higher marks. A larger pilot is now in development.

As described in the fall 2013 edition of the Association for the Advancement ofArtificial Intelligence’s AI Magazine, the Inquire Project created an intelligent app for selected chapters of the popular Campbell Biology text used by many introductory biology courses.

The app allowed students to key in free-form questions about the content while they were studying on an iPad. They could also tap the screen to access detailed concept summary pages, pop-up definitions, and follow-up questions as well as highlight text to create “note cards” with related questions. The app was developed at the Artificial Intelligence Center at SRI International, with funding from Vulcan Inc., a company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

In an evaluation conducted with 72 community college students, one third of the group used the traditional print version of Campbell Biology while another third studied from the AI-enhanced digital version of the book. The remaining third was assigned to the regular digital version, which permitted basic highlighting and annotations but didn’t have the AI extras. All of the students were asked to read certain chapters for an hour, spend 90 minutes on homework, and then take a 20-minute quiz.

Quiz scores averaged 88 for the AI group but only 81 for the print textbook and just 75 for the unenhanced digital textbook. Homework scores were similar: 81 for AI, 71 for print, and 74 for “plain” digital.

The conclusion? Being able to “ask” questions and view summaries right on the page they were reading apparently aided students’ comprehension and retention of the material. The 72 participants posed a total of 520 questions during two and a half hours of reading and homework. Of those, 194 questions were unique but only 59 were asked by more than one student, indicating that different students needed clarification of different textbook content.

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