Published: Dec. 27, 2022

iSAT has come a long way since our start in September 2020. We’ve stood up the Institute during a global pandemic; we’ve navigated entering middle school classrooms across two school districts; we’ve co-designed curriculum units with middle school teachers; we’ve created new metaphors for the different roles of our AI Partner, and so much more. 

In May of this year, we proudly presented our progress to the external Site Visit Team (SVT) who provided a report to the National Science Foundation (NSF). The positive feedback we received energized us to embark on a productive third year. With the SVT’s and NSF’s helpful guidance, we’ve refined our organizational structure and are well on our way to evolving into a mature institute.

Merging Ideas, Methods, and Techniques

Over the past two years, our researchers from more than 14 areas from nine universities, along with school districts and technology development partners, have focused on various approaches for creating a safe, effective, and engaging AI Partner for K-12 classrooms. This work has enabled us to form our major goal for our third year: merge these diverse ideas, methods, and techniques to amplify convergence research and develop roadmaps for design and implementation in classrooms. 

And this is indeed a major goal! To accomplish this convergence, we have thematically grouped our performance goals and subgoals—around 45!—into research themes (see below). Each of our three research strands have three main research themes (nine total). For example, Strand 1’s (Understanding and facilitating collaborations) performance goals and subgoals have been reorganized into three main themes with different leads (Speech recognition, Content analysis/dialogue management, and Situated grounding). In addition, we have three institute-wide research themes as well as themes supporting our strategic impacts, management, and evaluation.

Expanding Our Leadership Structure to Include Theme Leads

Prior to the refinement of our organizational structure, iSAT’s core leadership team consisted of our Principal Investigator, Executive Director, and Strand leads. Now, each theme has a designated leader who meets with all the other theme leads as well as our Strand leaders during iSAT’s bi-weekly leadership team meetings. This expands leadership opportunities for members at all levels of iSAT, with theme leads ranging from postdocs, junior faculty, and research assistants to senior faculty and research scientists. These new leaders also bring a wealth of diverse viewpoints to their roles.

Reorg chart

iSAT’s research themes and leads

Strategic Planning and Evaluation

The first task for the theme leads was to develop a Year 3 research and development roadmap and a publication plan focusing on the following items: 

  • Research projects/activities (e.g., problem/question, what data will be collected/used, broad approach, intended outcomes) 
  • How each project/activity contributes to one or more of: (a) AI Partner development/testing, (b) foundational research within each strand; (c) strategic impacts of educational and workforce development and broadening participation. 
  • Publication venues and rough timeline for each project/ activity including potential “breakthrough” high-impact publications 
  • Key team members and cross-strand collaborators 
  • Resources needed (hardware, Institute-wide technical infrastructure, personnel, etc.) 

Each theme lead developed a plan, which was then discussed with Institute Management and the leadership team for each strand. These plans were also shared with all of iSAT during our whole-team meetings. As part of our Evaluation Plan, Institute Management and Leadership will review progress and provide constructive feedback on each theme in Q3 (December to February 2023). 

We brought these leaders together at the end of this summer for an in-person AI Partner design convergence meeting. With this new structure, we now have increased a shared awareness of major activities across the Institute, helping our members identify greater collaboration opportunities, reduce redundancies, and focus on our mission to build deep conceptual and socio-collaborative learning experiences for all students.

Finally, we’ve reorganized our six Strategic Impacts by assigning a lead for each impact. Rachel Lieber took on the new role of Outreach Coordinator and oversees iSAT’s Nurture and grow the next generation of talent and Broadening participation and diversity initiatives. Alayne Benson is our internal Community Coordinator and leads our Multidisciplinary integration and community building, Multi-organizational synergies and achievements, and Knowledge Transfer efforts. Peter Foltz heads our Impact of the Insitute as a nexus point for collaborative efforts strategies.