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My Learning Assistant©  

mylaLearning often improves when students are stimulated to ask good questions and receive timely, relevant, correct, and informative answers and advances in technology are poised to facilitate inquiry-based learning.  Throughout history, great teachers have sought to create learning environments that encourage questions and provide thoughtful, helpful responses. As several studies indicate, meaningful question asking and answering enhances learners’ questioning ability. Highly-interactive simulations and synthetic game environments share many characteristics of effective learning environments by stimulating curiosity and prompting sincere question-asking.  A key design challenge in such learning environments is integrating question-asking and answering (Q&A) tools that stimulate deep question-asking, i.e. asking for information above what is required to succeed in the game.  
In efforts to contribute research to this design challenge, FAS has worked to make question asking integral to winning the games that have been designed in-house.  We have also developed a prototype version of a Q&A tool, called My Learning Assistant. Based on the recommendations put forward in the Question Generation and Answering Systems Roadmap (LINK), this tool aims to provide context-sensitive learner assistance that combines features of multiple question-asking interfaces such as:
  • FAQs,
  • natural language queries,
  • topic-based questions, and
  • keyword-based questions.
Further, this tool aims to relieve game developers from an additional burden of programming for a completely different application domain like information retrieval so they can focus on game features.
The prototype provides an application programming interface (API) of C++ components to service question asking and answering interfaces within synthetic learning environments. On receiving a request, the components execute, parse the asked question, pull context sensitive and relevant data from pre-authored multi-media knowledge bases, and forward the retrieved data in an XML format back to the game for presentation. The XML based database architecture facilitates the components to be plugged-in with any 3D game engine or even used with online web-games. The prototype also provides a web based content authoring features to create game-subject specific, context-sensitive, and seamless-to-integrate learning content in the form of knowledge base.
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