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IES Contract

Title: StepWise Virtual Tutor for Algebra I
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Smith, Patti Awardee: Querium
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (5/1/2016-4/31/2018) Award Amount: $900,000
Goal: Phase II Development Award Number: EDIES16C0011

Phase II award

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: The team will fully develop and test the StepWise Virtual Tutor for Algebra I, an online artificial intelligence tutor designed to provide real-time assessments and personalized tutoring for middle and high school students. As a required course, algebra represents a shift from tangible numeric operations to more abstract concepts and thus is an important gatekeeper to academic success in STEM in high school and beyond.

Project Activities: During Phase I (completed in 2015), the team developed a prototype of the StepWise Virtual Tutor, an artificial intelligence software tutoring program for Algebra I students. The prototype included rules-based algorithms covering six standards in Algebra I to generate hints as students proceed through problems. In a pilot study at the end of Phase I, the researchers tested the prototype with 129 Algebra I students and six teachers in middle school classes. They learned that 84% of students found the prototype easy to use and 79% indicated that the prototype provided assistance when it was needed. All six teachers whose classrooms used the prototype reported that the hints provided appropriate and just-in-time support to students. In Phase II, the team will fully develop rules for an additional 64 topics aligned to relevant national standards, the summative and formative assessment reporting dashboard, and an authoring engine so that teachers can create their own exercises. After development is complete, researchers will conduct a pilot study to assess the feasibility and usability, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of the tutor for supporting algebra learning. Thirty-two grade 7 math classes from 16 schools will participate, with half randomly assigned to use the algebra tutor and half to follow business-as-usual procedures. The researchers will compare pre-and-post scores of student's algebra learning on an established measure of algebra readiness.

Product: StepWise will be a mobile and desktop virtual tutor that provides real-time assessments and support to middle and high school students to learn Algebra. The adaptive engine will include rule-based artificial intelligence to guide students through the steps of solving problems, and will permit students to explore many different pathways to a correct response. After entering a response, students will receive immediate feedback on whether the step is correct, information on why, and hints for what to do next. Through the teacher dashboard, StepWise will aggregate assessment results at the class and individual student level, and provide teachers detailed reports on types and frequency of errors to inform instruction. StepWise will be implemented in and out of classrooms to supplement instruction and learning.