A professor at the University of South Florida has developed a motivational chatbot and a digital “candyland-like” maze to promote student success and showcase new uses for emerging educational technology.
An Associate Professor in the School of Education, Sanghoon Park teaches online educational technology courses that explore innovative trends in education such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality, and the Metaverse. He just finished his first semester using the same techniques to motivate and keep students out of the classroom.
Park saw the potential of chatbots before Open AI’s ChatGPT penetrated the public consciousness. He started development of RAMI (short for Regulatory Advisor for Motivation Inhibition) in November 2022 with the help of a student team and Judy Genschaft Honors College Assistant Dean Reginal Lucien.
When a student logs into a course, RAMI appears and asks how they are feeling and if they are facing any challenges.
“And RAMI can offer differentiated and individualized motivational strategies based on your opinion,” added Park. “Of course, you can talk to the course instructor, but we cannot give you an immediate response.”
He also tried to increase online engagement using video game features. The USF Center for Innovative Education and Learning funded and helped create both programs.
A superhero character outlines the course and guides students through the learning modules. Park explained that you can acquire “special tools” as you progress, such as digital gloves and hats.
He said gamification increases engagement and reduces disorientation. Park noted that this is especially useful for introductory course students who may not have experience with online teaching.
He said these programs also increase familiarity with the same technology-focused class topics. RAMI, for example, can help you see different ways to incorporate ChatGPT into your teaching.
“The same is true for augmented reality and the metaverse,” says Park. “Like it or not, you need to have some basic understanding of what the metaverse means and how it can be used for learning and training purposes.”
Students can choose from five Metaverse sites, and Park challenges them to create “short and simple” teaching activities that can be applied to the classroom. One of her PhD students in the Graduate Education Technology program is already applying what she learned in her previous courses.
Park said Ashley, whose last name was not disclosed, teaches English at a university in Indonesia. She uses the Metaverse to create social connections between people around the world.
“There are people in that virtual world, you can communicate with them, you can interact with them,” Park said. “It is therefore important to understand how learning experiences, or learning interventions, can be created within that new type of emerging technology.”
Over 90% of students who took his two introductory courses finished the semester with an ‘A’ grade. Park said he will give him a second chance to succeed if the initial submission is not up to par.
Additional time to review lectures and learn from peers usually helps improve grades, but some still fall short of Park’s standards. However, he noted that it is important for students to build confidence before taking more difficult courses.
University officials have noted Park’s efforts to engage and motivate students. He was recently awarded Innovative Education’s Innovation in Design and Teaching Online Award for his efforts.
The organization will produce a video about his course and post it on the Florida Governors’ Association website. Park said it was the first time he won an award in this category.
“This is the first time this award has been created,” he said. “And I’m glad they’re doing that because it’s one of the growing areas both nationally and internationally.”
Park was born in South Korea and served in the military before entering college. It was around 1997 when he and his classmates began exploring his then rudimentary chat room.
Seeing the endless possibilities of the Internet in education, he hoped to attend graduate school in the United States. His mother wanted him to stay and the two made a deal. He applied to one university, and if he passed, he could go abroad.
Park earned his PhD from Florida State University and now inspires students with the same curiosity. His connection to the South Pacific continues with the help of the Metaverse.
Mr. Park and his doctoral students recently attended an international virtual world conference with participants from South Korea, China and Japan. He explained how chatbots like RAMI can offer educational partners, especially for online students.
He is evaluating the program over the summer and plans to share the next version of RAMI with the entire USF. It has not yet been opened to other universities, but Park said it is a possibility.
“That’s what we have to think about and how do we expand the opportunities beyond USF,” he added.