In our work, we examine the linguistic practices of particular communities – both inside and outside school – to understand how language is used within a community. This involves:
- Extensive classroom observation of local schools that vary in socio-economic status, ethnic diversity, and standardized test performance
- Leading informal collaborative learning sessions at local community centers and afterschool programs
- Interviews and co-design sessions with students, parents, teachers, and administrators
These observations, discussions, and design sessions are subsequently analyzed to help us respond to a number of fundamental questions. For example, what is the range of verbal and non-verbal behaviors different students may display when interacting with human peers, such that we design technologies who display realistic, engaging, and culturally-appropriate behaviors? How can we integrate students’ perceptions of culture, as well as their own ideas on how to improve on the design of our technology, into our iterative design process?
Based on the outcomes of these observations, discussions, and design sessions, we build virtual peers as a way to support students as learning partners in the classroom, educate teachers and administrators about cultural differences, and better understand the role of culture and language within a classroom. To do this, we examine the effect of virtual peers that are able to demonstrate cultural alignment with different ethnic groups along physical, verbal, and non-verbal dimensions. To do so, we manipulate the physical, verbal, and non-verbal behaviors of virtual peers who can engage with students in both social and formal and informal learning tasks, and examine how different instantiations of agents affect students’ collaborative talk, learning gains, and self-efficacy