Students' Experiences of Emotional Connection with Pedagogical Agents

Students' Experiences of Emotional Connection with Pedagogical Agents

Maggi Savin-Baden, Gemma Tombs, Roy Bhakta, David Burden
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch131
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Online chatbots (also known as pedagogical agents or virtual assistants) are becoming embedded into the fabric of technology, both in educational and commercial settings. Yet understanding of these technologies is inchoate and often untheorised, influenced by individuals' willingness to trust technologies, aesthetic appearance of the chatbot and technical literacy, among other factors. This paper draws upon data from two research studies that evaluated students' experiences of using pedagogical agents in education using responsive evaluation. The findings suggest that emotional connections with pedagogical agents were intrinsic to the user's sense of trust and therefore likely to affect levels of truthfulness and engagement. They also indicate that the topic of the pedagogical agent-student interaction is key to the student's experience. The implications of these studies are that truthfulness, personalisation and emotional engagement are all vital components in using pedagogical agents to enhance online learning.
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The continuing debates about the nature and process of learning in higher education have created a minefield of overlapping concepts, with few clear frameworks for understanding the relationship between the context and the experience of the learner. However, those in the field of critical awareness have argued that theirs is not simply another perspective on adult learning but rather a shift in ideology. The ideals of this tradition stem largely from theorists such as Freire (1972, 1974) and hooks (1994), who have argued that social and historical forces shape the processes through which people come to know themselves and develop their view of the world. Learning is therefore seen to occur in a social and cultural context and this necessarily influences what and how people learn. Learners therefore must seek to transcend the constraints their world places upon them in order to liberate themselves and become critically aware. Yet it would seem that higher education has increasingly become colonised by an enterprise culture and the result is that students and academics have become defined by and through this culture. These colonising forms of enterprise higher education reflect the market forces and the quick fix stance of commerce and industry. Higher education that only supplies ‘training’ is unlikely to equip students to work in an uncertain world. Giroux and Giroux (2004) have argued that educators should build courses by combining ‘democratic principles, values, and practices with... the histories and struggles of those often marginalized because of race, class, gender, disability, or age’ (p. 99). They argue that academics should shift beyond the lands of academia and integrate with the larger spheres in the community, where culture and politics are truly learned and made relevant. One such sphere is the online world, a core part of students’ everyday lives.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Anthropomorphism: The attribution of human features to an object (chatbot).

Co-presence: The sense of being present and connected with others in a virtual environment.

Pedagogical Agent: A chatbot used for educational purposes.

Immersion: The sense of the user feeling ‘in’ or ‘part’ of a virtual environment and they become absorbed and deeply involved as they interact with it.

Trust: An attitude of confident expectation that one’s vulnerabilities will not be exploited.

Truthfulness: The provision of accurate information.

Emotional Engagement: A user’s belief that a personal connection (either positive or negative) exists between themselves and the chatbot. Informed by the related concepts of immersion and social presence .

ChatBot: Characters on a computer screen with embodied life-like behaviours.

Personalisation: The ability to choose or adapt a chatbot according to personal preferences.

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