Three Interconnected Research Strands

Our Institute is structured around three core research strands that support each other and our K–12 partners in the development of our AI partners. The three strands are united by our Community Hub – our outreach center dedicated to promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing across our teams and the broader community. 

Strand 1: Understanding and facilitating conversations

Strand 1 is led by Co-PI (Principal Investigator) Martha Palmer with Professor Ross Beveridge at Colorado State University as a Co-Lead. They focus on building our AI-partners' rich dialogue capability for discussions with the students and teachers, both through language and also non-verbal communication. The team will help our AI-partners record students' degrees of engagment, points of confusion and insights and provide the teacher with this feedback in real time.

Our CU-Boulder contributors are experts in Natural Language Processing and Human-Robot Communication, and include Jim Martin, Katharina Kann and Alessandro Roncone. Our language experts include contributors from the University of California at Santa Cruz – Professor Lyn Walker, a world leader in discourse analysis, and Professor Jeff Flanigan, a Natural Language Processing expert.

Our non-verbal elements experts include Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Professor Jake Whitehill, Brandeis University’s Professor James Pustejovsky, and Colorado State University's Ross Beveridge.

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to work with this world-class team of experts on such a very challenging issue – enabling real-time, productive communication between students and an AI Partner." 

—Martha Palmer

Strand 2: Orchestrating interactions with AI

Strand 2 is co-led by CU Boulder's Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) Research Professor Leanne Hirshfield and Professor Sadhana Puntambekar from the University of Madison-Wisconsin. Among the group of talented researchers from multiple universities working on this strand, Hirshfield will be assisted by fellow CU Professors Peter Foltz, McKell Carter and Clayton Lewis, with Sidney D’Mello rounding out the team.  

This strand aims to 1. Design the student-AI teaming models needed for an AI partner to scaffold 21st century learning practices; 2. Investigate how AI can support teachers in orchestrating classrooms for collaboration at the individual, small group, and whole classroom level; and 3. Identify socio-cognitive-affective states pertinent to student-AI team interactions, such as trust and joint attention, and ground them in neurophysiological signals. Invaluable team members from other universities supporting this research strand include Professors Jamie Gorman from Georgia Tech and Mike Tissenbaum from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

"I believe that our greatest impact to AI and education will be how we carefully and purposefully take the knowledge gleaned from teachers and students and directly build that knowledge into the architecture of our AI systems."

—Leanne Hirshfield 

Strand 3: Broadening participation with co-design

Strand 3 is co-led by Co-PI and ICS Director Tamara Sumner and Professor Bill Penuel of the School of Education, and their team includes CU Professors Kalonji Nzinga and Arturo Cortez and Thomas Philip from the University of California Berkeley. They will be working with a team of school and community partners, including Denver Public Schools and Project VOYCE. 

This team will convene a set of community-level meetings that include AI researchers and community organizations, advocacy groups and others engaged in the study of AI in society to help build a vision for how AI technologies might support more just and equitable futures. The group will also co-design and test with teachers and students a set of units in which students develop understanding of, critique and create AI technologies that contribute to such a vision.

“Community members must be included from the very beginning when it comes to designing and developing technology that will be deployed in schools – this includes involving students, teachers, parents and other community leaders."

—Tamara Sumner