Introduction

Cognii's mission is to improve the quality and affordability of education with the help of advanced technologies. Cognii's Virtual Learning Assistant uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology and is part of a new breed of Artificial Intelligent (AI) products such as Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, Google Now and IBM Watson. However, Cognii is the only company that is exclusively focused on applying the most advanced AI research to improve education.

As we prepare our students to face twenty-first century challenges, we must teach them to think creatively, reason effectively and solve the new problems. Our assessment must measure these abilities. Learning science has demonstrated that more frequent formative assessment, open response assessment items, writing to learn, and one-to-one tutoring are effective at improving engagement, learning, and retention. Yet these proven practices have been underused because they rely on access to a well-trained human grader, teacher, or tutor. Many learners around the globe are not so lucky, and not even the most fortunate student can expect constant one-on-one attention.

With Cognii, open-response questions become practical: AI technology provides instant scoring at human-level performance. Cognii also provides one-to-one tutoring and formative assessment that engages students in a conversation until they achieve mastery of the concepts. This type of tutoring is known to improve students' learning by two standard deviations, as demonstrated by Benjamin Bloom in 1984. Cognii's research suggests this is a scalable solution that can facilitate students learn any topic, anywhere, anytime. Cognii has demonstrated this by deploying its solution to students at some of the most prominent universities and community colleges with a satisfaction rating above 95% . The students and teachers have found Cognii "very helpful" and the "most innovative" ed-tech product they have used.

Synopsis

Objective

In an ideal education setting, a student would be studying a subject with one-to-one support from a human instructor. The instructor would assess the student at regular intervals by asking them to explain their understanding in their own words; the instructor would then provide constructive feedback and guidance if the student was having difficulty. Given the cost associated with human support, this experience is largely missing in today's education, on both parts: personalized tutoring and constructed response assessment. This has been succinctly acknowledged by Professor Sanjay Sarma, Dean of Digital Learning at MIT: "Assessment & feedback are the main challenges to making online education successful."

Cognii's Virtual Learning Assistant (VLA) solves both these problems and makes it possible for any student to learn any topic at any time from anywhere by automating the assessment and feedback.

Specifically, the VLA is designed to achieve the following objectives:
- Provide real-time formative assessment of students' constructed responses
- Help students improve their conceptual understanding and knowledge retention
- Improve students' engagement, degree completion rate and employability
- Improve faculty members' productivity and insight into students' progress
- Reduce the cost of delivering rich engaging education
- Make high quality education scalable and more affordable

Approach

Cognii's VLA achieves the aforementioned objectives by leveraging the powers of some of the most advanced technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing, to enable the best pedagogical practices of one-to-one tutoring and constructed response assessment.

Cognii's VLA works with educators and course designers to identify a set of topics that they would like to offer to students for interactive self-paced learning. For each topic, a curriculum script is designed and mapped to Cognii's proprietary format by applying natural language processing algorithms. Once fully implemented, the VLA is deployed to the institute's Learning Management System(LMS).

As the course progresses, the students are presented with the self-paced personalized adaptive learning interface of Cognii's VLA. When students answer a question (presented by Cognii) they receive immediate assessment with a qualitative hint or feedback that guides them towards completion if they missed any concepts. This interaction continues till students have mastered the topic. An example interaction is provided below:

Cognii: "What are the structures of a typical neuron?"
Student: "Neurons are the basic building blocks of the nervous system. A neuron comprises of dendrites and a cell body called soma."
Cognii: "Very close! Would you like to explain the neural transmitter?"

In addition to providing the tutoring experience with formative assessment, Cognii can also grade a large number of short essay answers within minutes. This is quite useful for interim summative assessment.

Cognii's admin dashboard enables the professor to monitor how each student is progressing and which students need more attention. The professor also receives rich learning analytics showing which concepts were more difficult for students to understand and thus where the curriculum may need to be adjusted.

Engagament

Cognii has received a significant amount of interest from students, professors and ed-tech administrators in higher education, as well as from educational companies offering learning content or platforms in higher ed and professional learning spaces. As education moves online, students are taking more online courses at their institutions or on MOOC platforms. While it is relatively easy to put learning content online (video lectures, e-book, presentation slides, etc.) and offer multiple-choice based assessment, it has been difficult to provide meaningful engagement and feedback, which is the primary reason for significant drop-out rate (up to 90%) in MOOCs.

Cognii offers a rich, engaging learning experience by partnering with education organizations. One example is its partnership with MindEdge Learning to create a cutting-edge online product for first-year composition, typically the largest course at any college. This product is currently in use at some of the most innovative institutions in higher ed, such as Southern New Hampshire University and Bunker Hill Community College. As a result of successful deployments, Cognii is currently working with over 40 organizations, including online schools, universities, educational publishing companies, Learning Management System providers, MOOCs, educational assessment providers, professional education and certification providers and corporate training providers.

Impact

Cognii's deployment of the Virtual Learning Assistant has been received positively by students and professors, as it provides a unique and inexpensive solution to one of the most pressing problems in education: how to provide high quality assessment and engagement without increasing the cost?

In a recent survey conducted by MindEdge Learning, students from Southern New Hampshire University and Bunker Hill Community College were asked to share their experience of using Cognii VLA in their writing courses. Over 95% of the students surveyed said they were highly satisfied with the product. They appreciated the reliable and immediate assessment provided by the AI technology, and the fact that they were able to use Cognii at any time to practice their writing skills. They were especially impressed by the personalized feedback that guided them towards improving their answers. Students' comments and their usage patterns indicate that Cognii engages them in an active learning process that improves learning outcomes. Some of the comments are below:

"The AI did an excellent job."
"Very helpful. I didn't realize I could come up with a thesis statement."
"Immediate feedback was helpful, especially how to change the wording"
"It worked even though the words were not exactly the same"
"I was happy to know exactly where I went wrong. Cognii's guidance led me in the right direction."

These student comments reflect the immense need for timely assessment and feedback on their writing. In absence of the technology, students would have received less constructed response questions and as a result, they would have written less often. However, it is a well-established principle that students learn more by writing. Cognii facilitates this approach as validated by the above comments.

Next Steps

Cognii's technology and pedagogy have been successfully implemented, with very favorable results. We want to replicate the experience on a larger scale and contribute towards the development of a well-educated population that is truly prepared to meet new challenges. In addition to reducing the cost of education, we would like to provide the best possible learning experiences and assessment to every student, everywhere.

We are striving to increase access to Cognii's Virtual Learning Assistant technology, both in our current markets and by working with organizations that have a global reach. Because Cognii's solution provides a high quality assessment and engagement at low cost, it is ideal for subject areas and regions where there is a high demand for better education, but low supply of well-trained teachers able to give students the necessary attention.

Cognii will continue to work with partner organizations that have resources for content development to enable better learning for their students. However, to create the best impact on improving education, Cognii plans to develop its own set of quality items in high-demand subjects--such as Economics, Biology, and English language--that we can offer directly to schools and learners who need them the most. Our goal is to enable all students to have an opportunity to learn at their own pace with a focus on deep comprehension, critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed for 21st-century jobs.

Other Information

PDF - Click to download
YouTube Video - Cognii Demo
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