A month of travel and conferences for iTalk2Learn

The iTalk2Learn team has had a busy month, filled with meetings and conferences. Since things have been so busy, we thought we’d give you a break-down of the best bits!

iTalk2Learn visits the beautiful city of Graz

The beautiful Austrian city of Graz, a World Cultural Heritage Site, was the venue last week for some important iTalk2Learn milestone events: a project management board and steering committee meeting, the presentation of two innovative conference papers and a poster, and, as it turned out… a double prize-winning public demonstration of the iTalk2Learn platform!

EC-TEL 2014

This year’s European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL 2014) was the biggest yet. There were around 400 delegates, representing most European countries but also from much further afield (such as the US and Brazil). Conference papers, posters and demonstrations addressed a huge range of topics, from self-regulated learning to communities of practice, from learning adaptivity to learning analytics, and from massive open online courses (MOOCs) to schools and universities of the future.

Of the 27 peer-reviewed full conference papers, chosen from the more than 150 submitted, two were by members of the iTalk2Learn team. Considering also one project poster, that’s an impressive achievement for the project.

“Can the Headsets Look in My Head?”

Dr Beate Grawemeyer, from the London Knowledge Lab at Birkbeck College, University of London, gave an excellent presentation of a paper written with Manolis Mavrikis, Alice Hansen and Sergio Gutierrez-Santos entitled: “Exploring the Potential of Speech Recognition to Support Problem Solving and Reflection. Wizards Go to School in the Elementary Maths Classroom”. You can see the slides on SlideShare and a pre-print of the paper is also available as a PDF.

The paper describes our classroom-based ‘Wizard of Oz’ study (in which students interact with a computer that is controlled by a researcher) which investigated how automatic speech recognition might be used to help provide students effective feedback to support their learning. Beate also presented a poster, by the same team, entitled: “Employing Speech to Contribute to Modelling and Adapting to Students’ Affective States”, which showed how the system works.

Automatic Affect Recognition

Ruth Janning, from the Information Systems and Machine Learning Lab at the University of Hildesheim, gave an equally high quality presentation. Her talk was about a paper written with Carlotta Schatten and Lars Schmidt-Thieme entitled: “Feature Analysis for Affect Recognition Supporting Task Sequencing in Adaptive Intelligent Tutoring Systems”. You can see the slides on SlideShare.

This paper describes the platform component that aims to infer a student’s emotional state from prosodic characteristics of their speech (rather than just the words that they say) while they interact with the fractions tools being investigated by the project.

Beate and Ruth presented their papers in the same EC-TEL session, which led to a very interesting conversation between the delegates. Some of the ideas suggested will be fed back into the project.

TEL Demo Shootout

The second day of the conference saw what is fast becoming an EC-TEL tradition, the “TEL Demo Shootout”. Thirty-two TEL systems (including iTalk2Learn) were demonstrated ‘live’ in a two and a half minute presentation to a conference hall of delegates (were the WiFi system was struggling to cope!).The problem with demo competitions like this is that it is difficult to show what’s “under the iceberg” and the complex research basis behind iTalk2learn. Nevertheless, Sergio and Manolis managed to fit this in two and a half minute slot. They explained the system, demonstrated some of the automatic speech recognition and even managed to raise a big laugh when the speech production system reminded delegates to attend the demo exhibition!  tavelconferences-2
 tavelconferences-1 This was followed by a more leisurely opportunity to demonstrate iTalk2learn system to individual or small groups of delegates, before everyone got to vote. There were two sets of prizes on offer and iTalk2learn was awarded one from each set!The first was a ‘business angels’ award from the i-KNOW 2014 conference that was co-hosted with EC-TEL. This was systems that had good commercial prospects. The second was based on delegates’ vote for the best demonstration… and iTalk2Learn came second! When you remember that there were 32 systems from teams across Europe, this is again a very impressive achievement.

British Educational Research Association Conference

The 40th BERA conference was hosted by the Institute of Education, London, 23 – 25th September. The conference received a record number of abstract submissions this year and the standard of the submissions were much higher than previous years, which pushed the average grade for acceptance higher and led to a higher number of rejections. There were approximately 150 sessions representing 29 special interest groups and the conference welcomed an international audience.

Alice Hansen, Manolis Mavrikis and Eirini Geraniou’s “Designing interactive representations for learning fractions” presentation focused on the exploratory learning environment within the iTalk2Learn platform, Fractions Lab, explaining how the associated exploratory tasks challenge students to solve problems while the ‘epistemic affordances’ of Fractions Lab take advantage of their intuitive ideas but also challenge them to reflect on the feedback provided. You can find the slides on SlideShare.

The paper explained some key design decisions (e.g. introducing explicit tools to encourage students to understand that there are underlying structures common to all representations) and discussed how they evolved from the literature and during design experiments, as well as how they impacted upon students’ conceptual change. The findings from school trials included how students’ interaction with Fractions Lab provokes them to think conceptually about fractions and to capitalise on their intuition, discouraging them from simply procedurally calculating an answer.

Take a look at the events page to find out which events and conferences the iTalk2Learn consortium will be attending soon, or get in touch to find out more!