Virtual Agents for Real Teachers: Applying AI to Support Professional Development of Proportional Reasoning
Keywords:Virtual Agent, Intelligent Tutoring System, Teachers, Professional Development, Natural Language Processing
Despite the critical role of teachers in the educational process, few advanced learning technologies have been developed to support teacher-instruction or professional development. This lack of support is particularly acute for middle school math teachers, where only 37% felt well prepared to scaffold instruction to address the needs of diverse students in a national sample. To address this gap, the Advancing Middle School Teachers’ Understanding of Proportional Reasoning project is researching techniques to apply pedagogical virtual agents and dialog-based tutoring to enhance teachers' content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. This paper describes the design of a conversational, agent-based intelligent tutoring system to support teachers' professional development. Pedagogical strategies are presented that leverage a virtual human facilitator to tutor pedagogical content knowledge (how to teach proportions to students), as opposed to content knowledge (understanding proportions). The roles for different virtual facilitator capabilities are presented, including embedding actions into virtual agent dialog, open-response versus choice-based tutoring, ungraded pop-up sub-activities (e.g. whiteboard, calculator, note-taking). Usability feedback for a small cohort of instructors pursuing graduate studies was collected. In this feedback, teachers rated the system ease of use and perceived usefulness moderately well, but also reported confusion about what to expect from the system in terms of flow between lessons and support by the facilitator.