The Project Reference is PTDC/IVC-PEC/3963/2014 with a funding of 199.706,00€ with Prof. Dr. Adérito Marcos being the coordinator. This project is financed by FCT and the entity in charge is Universidade Aberta.

In this project, we want to analyze the pedagogic impact of anthropomorphic user interfaces, also named Embodied Conversational Agents (ECA) or “avatars”, on online learning (OL) environments that are based on learning management systems (LMS) and targeted for use in university level courses. The main idea behind the project is to understand how ECAs may be modeled/adapted as Virtual Tutors in LMS and make available online help and guidance to each individual student. A Virtual Tutor is analogous to a human tutor in that it can autonomously interpret each individual learning situation and effectively intervene, in face of the online knowledge domain and the student profile, in the learning process according to a given tutoring plan that encompasses a set of instructions given by the human teacher/tutor.

Generally, it is not well understood which properties an avatar must possess, in terms of its visual appearance, behavior, emotion, non‐verbal expression, and function, to appropriately respond to the students’ requests and needs, when engaged in an online learning environment. In this project, an adaptable and interactive anthropomorphic interface will be implemented that is capable of supporting natural human‐computer interaction, and which will be modeled as a Virtual Tutor, and evaluated for its efficiency and pedagogic impact as an online teaching-learning mediator artifact in the context of trial scenarios.

This project will encompass a set of three trial scenarios for virtual tutoring, one for each of the following areas: natural sciences; computer sciences; and social sciences. In these teaching-learning scenarios, the students will be engaged in virtual classrooms in
either formal university graduation or post-graduation courses, where each student will have access to a particular instance of the Virtual Tutor. In these trials we will analyse the pedagogic impact of the application of virtual tutoring, taking special attention to the following central features:
– User-centered learning, measured in terms of the level of student autonomy within the learning process (e.g. the quality of the
student’s answers/contributions that were generated by suggestion of the virtual tutor; the self-exploitation of content that followed
from the virtual tutor suggestions);
– Collaborative learning, measured in terms of the level of interaction within the virtual classroom and the quality of the student
intervention and participation in group activities and online discussions that clearly resulted from the direct/indirect intervention or
influence of the virtual tutor’s actions;
– Teaching effort, measured in terms of the effective time spent by the human teacher/tutor to configure the virtual tutor plan, launch the virtual tutor and monitor it against the overall teaching-learning process;
It should be noticed that we conceive virtual tutoring as a complement to other actual online teaching-learning instruments/tools such are online forums, chatting, quizzes or virtual simulations. One of the main expected outcomes from this project is the design of a virtual pedagogic model for online teaching-learning that explicitly integrates application scenarios of the virtual tutors as a valuable mediating artifact/instrument.