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Cyber Enigmas? Passive detection and Pedagogical agents: Can students spot the fake?

Maggie Savin-Baden, Roy Bhakta, University of Worcester, UK. David Burden, Daden Ltd, Birmingham, UK

This paper presents a study that was undertaken to examine human interaction with a pedagogical agent and the passive and active detection of such agents within a synchronous, online environment. A pedagogical agent is a software application which can provide a human like interaction using a natural language interface. These may be familiar from the smartphone interfaces such as ‘Siri' or ‘Cortana', or the virtual online assistants found on some websites, such as ‘Anna' on the Ikea website. Pedagogical agents are characters on the computer screen with embodied life-like behaviours such as speech, emotions, locomotion, gestures, and movements of the head, the eye, or other parts of the body. The passive detection test is where participants are not primed to the potential presence of a pedagogical agent within the online environment. The active detection test is where participants are primed to the potential presence of a pedagogical agent. The purpose of the study was to examine how people passively detected pedagogical agents that were presenting themselves as humans in an online environment. In order to locate the pedagogical agent in a realistic higher education online environment, problem-based learning online was used. Problem-based learning online provides a focus for discussions and participation, without creating too much artificiality. The findings indicated that the ways in which students positioned the agent tended to influence the interaction between them. One of the key findings was that since the agent was focussed mainly on the pedagogical task this may have hampered interaction with the students, however some of its non-task dialogue did improve students' perceptions of the autonomous agents' ability to interact with them. It is suggested that future studies explore the differences between the relationships and interactions of learner and pedagogical agent within authentic situations, in order to understand if students' interactions are different between real and virtual mentors in an online setting.

kPedagogical agent, autonomous agent, problem-based learning, chatbot, passive detection

Full Paper - .pdf



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