A University of South Florida professor developed a motivational chatbot and a digital, “Candyland-like” maze to increase student success and showcase new uses for emerging educational technologies.
Sanghoon Park, an associate professor in the College of Education, teaches an online instructional technology course that explores innovative trends in education, like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and the metaverse. He just completed his first semester using the same tech to motivate and guide students away from the classroom.
Park realized the potential for chatbots before Open AI’s ChatGPT became ingrained in the public consciousness. He began developing RAMI, short for Regulatory Advisor for Motivation Inhibition, in November 2022 with the help of a student team and Reginal Lucien, assistant dean at the Judy Genshaft Honors College.
Whenever a student logs into the course, RAMI appears and asks them how they are feeling and if they are encountering any challenges.
“And based off of your input, RAMI can provide differentiated, individualized motivational strategies,” Park added. “Of course, you can talk to the course instructor, but it’s not going to be an instant response.”
He also sought to increase online engagement using video game features. The USF Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning funded and helped create both programs.
A superhero character outlines the course and guides students through instructional modules. Park explained that they earn “special tools” as they progress, like digital gloves or hats.
He said the gamification increases engagement while decreasing disorientation. Park noted that is particularly helpful for students in his introductory course, who may not have online education experience.
He said the programs also bolster familiarity with class topics that highlight the same technology. RAMI could help ascertain various ways of incorporating ChatGPT into instruction, for example.
“It’s the same thing for the augmented reality and the metaverse,” Park said. “Whether you like it or not, you have to have some kind of basic understanding of what the metaverse means and how we can utilize it for learning and training purposes.”
Students can choose from five metaverse sites, and Park tasks them with creating a “short and simple” educational activity they could apply to a classroom. One of his doctoral students in the graduate instructional technology program already uses what she learned in previous courses.
Park said Ashley (no last name provided) teaches English for a university in Indonesia. She uses the metaverse to create social connections between people from across the globe.
“You have people within that virtual reality world, and you can communicate with them, you can interact with them,” Park said. “So, it’s important to understand how we can create learning experiences – learning interventions – within that new type of emerging technology.”
Over 90% of students in his two introductory courses finished the semester with an “A.” Park noted he gives them a second chance at success if their original submissions are not up to par.
Additional time to review lectures and learn from peers typically help improve grades, while some still do not meet Park’s criteria. However, he noted the importance of building confidence before students take more challenging courses.
University officials have noticed Park’s commitment to engaging and motivating students. He recently received Innovative Education’s Innovation in Online Design and Teaching Award for his efforts.
The organization created a video about his course that will appear on the Florida Board of Governors website. Park said it was the first time anyone received an award in that category.
“It was the first time that award was even created,” he said. “And I’m glad they did because this is one of the growing fields across the nation and internationally.”
Park was born in South Korea and served in the military before enrolling in college. That was around 1997, and he and his classmates began exploring the era’s rudimentary chat rooms.
The internet’s seemingly endless possibilities in education made him want to attend an American graduate school. His mother wanted him to stay, and the two struck a deal: he would apply to one university, and if accepted, he could leave the country.
Park earned his doctorate from Florida State University and is now stoking that same curiosity in his students. His South Pacific connections continue – with the help of the metaverse.
Park and his doctoral students recently attended an international conference in the virtual world with counterparts from South Korea, China and Japan. He discussed how chatbots, like RAMI, can provide an educational companion – particularly for online students.
He is evaluating the program over the summer and plans to share the next version of RAMI across USF. While it is not open to other universities yet, Park said that is a possibility.
“That’s something we have to think about, how we are going to expand opportunities beyond USF,” he added.