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University of Nebraska–Lincoln


Intelligent Multiagent Infrastructure for Distributed System in Education

What is I-MINDS?

Most computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) systems have in general three key weaknesses. First, the collaboration among students are not monitored, measured and analyzed automatically. Vital information on an individual student's collaborative performance and behavior is lost. Further, even when the students' collaborative activities are tracked, real-time analyses are not available automatically to support students or teachers. Second, the collaboration is free-formed and thus not structured. Often times, teachers design various cooperative learning activities using different models to structure how students should collaborate and to target different collaborative strategies to measure. Third, the collaboration among students is not actively supported: the CSCL system does not alert the instructor about a student of his or her lack of participation, does not encourage a student to increase his or her participation, and so on.
I-MINDS is a software solution to intelligent management of virtual classrooms or groups, to support real-time and offline activities by facilitating group work, seamlessly tailoring to individual user needs and backgrounds, and assisting group moderation and management. Its technology is built upon intelligent software agents that interact on behalf of the users autonomously. In addition to collecting data and information on the users' activities and preferences, the agents also make decisions such as evaluating and ranking questions, supporting group discussions, match-making compatible group members, and learning useful heuristics to better support the users.


The I-MINDS prototyping process was initiated in September 2002 using a National Center for Information Technology in Education (NCITE) Seed Grant, which allowed us to build a prototype software package and conduct preliminary experiments to evaluate the technical correctness and educational feasibility of I-MINDS. NCITE is a research center located at the University of Nebraska (UNL) and operated jointly by the College of Education and Human Sciences, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, and the Computer Science and Engineering Department. The prototype was developed and built in Java.
In May 2003, we conducted a pilot study. The system was used by subjects in a controlled experiment to assess what impact it had on student learning of Global Information Systems (GIS) content. GIS technology can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, and development planning. Tables 2 and 3 document the key specifics of the pilot study. On Day 1, subjects in both groups completed a 109-point pretest of the content that was to be taught during the two sessions. At the conclusion of the class on Day 1 for both groups, the subset of 60 items that related to the content of that class was included on the posttest. After the Day 2 instruction, the subset of 49 items that related to the content of that class constituted the posttest. Subjects in the control group learned the identical content during each of the two sessions, as did subjects in the experimental group. The difference was that the control group students were in the same room as the instructor. Their class was taught in a very traditional manner with the professor using PowerPoint slides identical to those used for the experimental group to teach the content. Results for the two testing sessions are encouraging. For Test 2, the amount that the I-MINDS group improved from the pretest to the posttest was nearly twice that of the control group. Comments from the university professor who used I-MINDS in teaching both of the content lessons were also encouraging. He indicated that the teaching tool was very easy to learn and use. The instructor also noted that questions asked of him via I-MINDS tended to be higher quality, reflect a deeper understanding, and demand a richer response than those questions posed during the control sessions. In May 2005, we received funding from Microsoft ConferenceXP Program through the University of Nebraska.

Applications of I-MINDS

Specific applications of our technology include distance education support systems, active learning support systems, and corporate training support systems. By synchronous learning, I-MINDS is to provide intelligent support for a teacher in managing a classroom at real-time (including audio/video, real-time Q&A, real-time student profiling and ranking), and for a student to participate in group activities real-time (regardless of where the student is, remote or in-class). By synchronous learning, I-MINDS is to provide automated digital archival, Q&A, and student support groups outside the classrooms. But now, after our discussions in terms of marketability, we are looking at probably focus group support systems as outlined above.