DSCoVAR: An intelligent tutoring system

Associate Professor Kevyn Collins-Thompson received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences to develop tutoring technology to help middle school students improve literacy skills.

Start date: 9/1/2014
End date: 8/31/2017

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Collins-Thompson will work with co-principal investigator Gwen Frishkoff from Georgia State University to oversee a collaborative effort that brings together researchers from UMSI, Georgia State’s Psychology Department, Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute, and the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

The primary goal of this project is to develop an intelligent tutoring system that can address challenges students may have in acquiring literary words from written contexts. The study will recruit 6-8th grade students enrolled in after-school programs for economically disadvantaged students in Atlanta, Georgia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These students will participate in initial feasibility testing and the classroom delivery of the pilot tutoring system. 

The web-based intelligent tutoring system developed for this project, called DSCoVAR (Dynamic Support of Contextual Vocabulary Acquisition), will expose learners to new words in a variety of sentence contexts. After each sentence, learners will be asked to type the meaning of the target word. Researchers will track results and test whether DSCoVAR leads to greater gains in vocabulary knowledge.

Researchers will examine optimal conditions for contextual word learning, including factors supporting incremental gains in word knowledge and strategies for using specific context cues to guess the meaning of an unknown word in context. 

In addition to developing a potentially useful and compelling technical tool to help students, this project has broader implications for research and school-based methods of vocabulary learning. While the intended end users of the tutoring system are 4-8th grade students, a computer-based intervention system could support teachers as they develop instructional materials, provide instructors with data on learning trajectories and individual progress, and free up time that would otherwise be used teaching the meaning of specific words.

The proposed DSCoVAR tool could also be extended for use with other populations, including second language learners, struggling adult readers, and other individuals who are in need of efficient and effective methods for improving literacy and building vocabulary.


Dynamic Support of Contextual Vocabulary Acquisition for Reading (DSCoVAR): An Intelligent Tutoring System, U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences: $1.5 million


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