Iridescent founder and CEO Tara Chklovski recently sat down with Cristina Conati, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. Professor Conati is interested in creating intelligent interactive systems that can adapt to individual users’ needs. One application of this is educational games that need to both entertain and teach their players.
Tara Chklovski: Thank you for sitting down with me! Tell me about the problem or area of research you are working on.
Cristina Conati: In general I’m interested in the idea of user-adaptive interaction, which is using AI techniques to create tools that can personalize their interactions with users by capturing the user’s needs and preferences as they interact. Within that, I’ve done work on intelligent educational games, which are computer games that have a pedagogical purpose. There are activities that are designed to engage and amuse the players, but also to teach specific concepts – for instance, mathematical concepts.
AI technology in educational games enables intelligent, ongoing personalization, and the ability to gauge whether the player is engaged and whether they’re actually learning. That’s important because there are a number of educational games that are engaging but are not always effective at teaching. Creating engaging activities that are also effective at teaching is difficult through design alone, because players are different – what’s engaging for one person is different for another. The same is true of teaching strategies. But if we can create educational games that can adjust in real time to suit the person playing because it can understand their abilities, personality, and preferences, then students will have better learning interactions with the games.