Meet Helen...your new online teacher
Stanley Kubrik's HAL 9000 may have been smart enough to run the
spaceship Discovery, but HAL lacked one thing today's computers
may soon have--a face. Computers, long plagued by the
impersonality of a box with speakers and programmer's graphics,
will soon have a face and attitude compatible with their users.
A one-on-one teacher just for you
For simplicity's sake, we'll assign a name to our computer's new
face and call her Helen (of course, you'll be able to name
him/her anything you like). Helen will smile at you, move
around, even make you laugh. She'll have an angelic voice,
calming hand gestures and more expressions than Marcel Marceu.
But most importantly, she'll encourage you to learn--everything
and anything--from French to forensics.
Helen will have "soul"
Researchers in the areas of instructional technology,
human-computer interaction and psychology have determined that
computers can be more persuasive if they have a visual identity
and "soul." Thus, they have designed what they call an effective
"pedagogical agent," an animated, three- dimensional character
that serves as the "face" (and "interface") of the computer, one
that can mimic human emotional expressions, nonverbal
communication and interactions.
You'll want to bring her an apple
Helen will be the perfect teacher. She'll interact with you,
adapt to your strengths and weaknesses, even provide emotional
and cognitive feedback. Far better than Microsoft Word's
annoying and intrusive paperclip 'Clippy,' Helen will engage you
and help you focus on the task at hand. And unlike a human
mentor, Helen's age, ethnicity, personality, mannerisms, and
interactive style will be matched to your preferences to
encourage learning. In short, you'll have that "favorite
teacher" who got you through math or chemistry.
She'll do everything but send you to detention
Helen will evaluate your understanding throughout your
"e-class," just like a human teacher, and she'll adapt the
lesson plan accordingly. She won't move on to more sophisticated
concepts until it's clear you've grasped the basics. If you
don't, she'll continue with the basics until you "get it." And
if that means prompting you to ask questions, she'll do that
too, offering encouragement, memorable examples, even a clever
joke or two to keep you interested. You'll get to know Helen
much like you would a really interesting teacher. She'll have a
colorful personality, reveal her life history and specific areas
of knowledge and skills--in short, she'll be really cool. Best
of all, she'll always be up to date on the subject at hand,
tirelessly absorbing the latest research or historic tomes on
the subject being taught.
Helen won't make you stand in the corner
Helen will let you learn at your own pace in a low-pressure
learning environment. She'll project enthusiasm and support when
you get the right answer; yet, unlike a real classroom filled
with peers, you won't be embarrassed if you fail to grasp a
concept or answer incorrectly. Finally, teachers like Helen can
be set up to act as coaches or disciplined instructors--teaching
everything from the history of art to advanced calculus.
So prepare yourself for the brave new world of computer
learning. Your favorite teacher will make sure you get an A in
class and an E for effort. And yes, you can chew gum in class,
as long as you give Helen your due attention.