CEC Theses and Dissertations

Title

Constructing Virtual Internet Agents to Improve Learning

Date of Award

2001

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell

Committee Member

Timothy Ellis

Abstract

There has been extensive research on the design and development of software agents. However, little has been reported about educational applications involving agents or on how users interact with them in a multimedia learning environment. Furthermore, music departments in many school districts have a real need for instructional tools that would help students learn basic principles of ethnic wind musical instruments and music elements. Currently there are few, if any, music learning programs that offer personalized instruction to students. The investigator developed two programs: An interactive multimedia panpipe program (IMPP) and the same program with a virtual Internet agent (VIA) called a virtual Internet agent program (VIAP). She tested the hypothesis that a VIA improves the quality and effectiveness of online, interactive learning programs. The IMPP and the VIAP were designed and programmed based on accepted instructional and learning theories. The pentatonic panpipe program (PPP) has been demonstrated to be an excellent vehicle for teaching basic music elements. The IMPP and VIAP contain methodology for learning how to build and play the pentatonic panpipe. In order to assess the pedagogical value of VIAP, the researcher designed and developed two interactive Internet programs, one with agents (VIA), and the other without, '(or teaching basic principles on how to build and play the Andean pentatonic panpipe. The programs introduce basic units of learning on acoustics, Andean culture, and wind instruments. These programs helped to determine the effectiveness of VIA as a teaching enhancement. Results were validated using non-standardized pretests and posttests to both the experimental and control groups. There was also a survey questionnaire covering the IMPP and the VIAP and two additional instruments, a group appraisal form and a rating sheet, for collecting data not obtained from paper-and-pencil tests. Subjects were selected randomly from a population of 42 fifth grade children, attending an elementary school. These subjects were tested and observed in a computer lab environment. There were two sets of students, 20 in the experimental group, with VIA, and 22 in the control group, without VIA.

The findings showed that agent -based technologies vastly improved the quality and effectiveness of online instructional systems. Posttest scores revealed a greater gain made by the experimental group than the control group. The difference in the mean scores was significant. Since the results varied significantly, Q < .05, among the experimental and controls, the null hypothesis was rejected (A = B) and it was concluded that the mean score of the experimental group was significantly greater than the control group. This validated the original hypothesis that the use of VIA in online interactive learning environments improves knowledge acquisition, retention, and satisfaction in an uninitiated sample group. VIAP is an interactive teaching program with virtual Internet agents that was proven to be a highly effective pedagogical tool.

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