What happens when pedagogical agents are off-task?

by George Veletsianos

Social and non-task interactions are often recognized as a valuable part of the learning experience. Talk over football, community events, or local news for example, may enable the development of positive instructor-learner relationships and a relaxed learning atmosphere. Non-task aspects of learning however have received limited attention in the education literature. Morgan-Fleming, Burley, and Price (2003) argue that this is the result of an implicit assumption that no pedagogical benefits are derived from non-task behavior, hence the reduction of off-task activities in schools such as recess time. This issue has received limited attention in the pedagogical agent literature as well. What happens when a virtual character designed to help a student learn about a topic, introduces off-task comments to a lesson? What happens when a virtual instructor mentions current events? How do learners respond?

These are the issues that I am investigating in a paper published in the current issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, as part of my research on the experiences of students who interact with virtual instructors and pedagogical agents. The abstract, citation, and link to the full paper appear below:

Abstract
In this paper, I investigate the impact of non-task pedagogical agent behavior on learning outcomes, perceptions of agents’ interaction ability, and learner experiences. While quasi-experimental results indicate that while the addition of non-task comments to an on-task tutorial may increase learning and perceptions of the agent’s ability to interact with learners, this increase is not statistically significant. Further addition of non-task comments however, harms learning and perceptions of the agent’s ability to interact with learners in statistically significant ways. Qualitative results reveal that on-task interactions are efficient but impersonal, while non-task interactions were memorable, but distracting. Implications include the potential for non-task interactions to create an uncanny valley effect for agent behavior.

Veletsianos, G. (2012). How do Learners Respond to Pedagogical Agents that Deliver Social-oriented Non-task Messages? Impact on Student Learning, Perceptions, and ExperiencesComputers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 275-283.

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2 thoughts on “What happens when pedagogical agents are off-task?

  1. Very interesting research with clear potential implications for designing online learning experiences. What is an ‘uncanny valley ‘?

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