What exactly is wrong and why? Tutorial Dialogue for Intelligent CALL Systems

What exactly is wrong and why?
Tutorial Dialogue for Intelligent CALL Systems
Manfred Klenner (Zurich) / Henriëtte Visser (Heidelberg)

1 Introduction

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has been one of the first incarnations of E-Learning, which has not only become a trend nowadays but also a commercial factor. CALL has its own international conferences and a wide range of academic prototypes and commercial products are available. As with E-Learning software in general, advanced CALL systems are based on the principles of multi media design, facilitating modalities like audio and video, e.g. speech input and output, animated graphics and avatars for guiding the user. Although these design standards do improve the quality of E-Learning systems, it is widely accepted that an optimal learning environment is one where the learner is guided by an intelligent personalized tutor, that adapts to the level of expertise of the learner, for example in tailoring explanations to the user’s domain knowledge and selecting appropriate exercises. This is the area of Intelligent Tutorial Systems (ITS) and User Modelling (UM), so far a mainly academic discipline. If at all, only few commercial (CALL) products incorporate such capabilities. The problem is that domain knowledge, reasoning and learning facilities and – in the case of verbal explanations – natural language understanding capabilities are to be integrated; altogether a non-trivial task for many application areas. As a consequence, intelligent tutorial systems seem to be suited well only for restricted domains, e.g. circuit design (Davis 1984).

We believe that in the area of CALL systems we can in fact find such restricted domains (portioned by the thematic closure of the exercises of a lesson). The domain knowledge here is knowledge about grammar (word order, agreement, subcategorisation etc.) and the domain modelling can be held local to each lecture. The challenge then is the reasoning and natural language part of such an intelligent CALL (ICALL) system. We will elaborate on this below. Let us first discuss the kind of learning tasks we are focussing on.

2 Examples of Explanatory Dialogues

We are focussing on language generation tasks involving grammatical knowledge, such as forming a sentence given a couple of words in base form or translating a sentence. Such an exercise could be: Given the words ‘Mann sehen grün Auto (man see green car)’, form a full inflected sentence (in the word order as given).

The correct answer is: ‘Der Mann sieht das grüne Auto’ (the man sees the green car). Here, diverse grammatical knowledge (of German grammar) is inolved: the subject must be realized in nominative case, an article must be selected that agrees with the noun in case, gender and number. The object should be realised as accusative, adjective inflection, the article and the noun must correspond to this.

Or consider the translation of the sentence “La lune s’est levée” into German language. The result should be: ‘Der Mond ist aufgegangen (the moon has risen)’. Here, among others, the learner must know that ‘lune’ (‘Mond’) is masculine in German (in contrast, it is feminine in French). If the learner responds with ‘Die Mond ist aufgegangen’, she probably is not aware of that fact.[1] A system that simply responds with ‘no’ is of little use. In Fig. 1, a wide range of possible feedback statements to a faulty input ‘die Mond’ are enumerated.
1. ‘die’ is wrong (is feminine)
2. the wrong article was selected
3. ‘Mond’ is masculine
4. the noun is masculine
5. the noun is masculine, but the article is not
6. there is an agreement error
7. there is an agreement error within the subject
8. ‘die’ and ‘Mond’ do not agree
9. the article and noun do not agree
10. ‘die’ and ‘Mond’ do not agree in a grammatical category
11. ‘die’ and ‘Mond’ do not have the same gender
12. the (grammatical category) case of the subject is wrong
13. a grammatical category of the subject is wrong
14. the subject is wrong

Figure 1: Error Feedback

But what is the right level of explanation? For a learner who is familiar with grammatical concepts like subject, agreement etc. the explanations given in e.g. 7 or 13 might suffice, i.e. help her to find the correct solution. In contrast, beginners might prefer the explanations in 1 or 5. Explanation 3 (‘Mond’ is masculine’) is a very sophisticated one, since it requires some inferences to be made by the student (e.g. ‘Mond’ is masculine’ means ’something that also should be masculine actually is not’). But if a single explanation does not provide sufficient information to allow the learner to correct her input, a tutorial explanatory dialogue is needed. In Fig. 2 an example of such a top down dialogue is given.

system: there is an agreement error
user: where?
system: at the subject
user: why?
system: the article and the noun do not agree in gender
user: i can’t fix the problem
system: German ‘Mond’ is masculine
user: i see, but what am i supposed to do?
system: choose the corresponding masculine article
user: what is it?
system: ‘der’

Figure 2: A Top Down Explanatory Dialogue

This is an example of an exhaustive dialogue, where the learner is not able to utilize the explanations of the tutor at all. Thus, the dialogue finishes with a correction statement. We expect such a situation to be the exception, which nevertheless should be manageable by the system. Normally, after one or two dialogue steps, the learner should come up with the right solution. Otherwise, the user model must be adapted to a lower level of expertise. Another tutorial strategy is based on a bottom up explanation as given in Fig. 3.

system: the article is wrong
user: why?
system: ‘die’ is feminine
user: so what?
system: the article must agree with the noun
user: what’s the problem?
system: German ‘Mond’ is masculine
user: i see

Figure 3: A Bottom Up Explanatory Dialogue

Why not simply provide the student with the correct solution? Language learning is a kind of problem solving. Psychological studies have indicated that self explanation can improve problem solving skills (Conati et al. 2001). We adopt that view and opt for a tutorial strategy that helps the student to explain her mistakes to herself.

Another question that remains open is whether students pay attention to the metalinguistic feedback at all. However, studies seem to suggest that students appreciate meaningful learner-computer interaction and are willing to get involved in a longer dialogue as long as the option of receiving the correct answer immediately remains open (Heift 2001).

In the next section we present an overview of the historical development of CALL and the current challenges in system design. Our prototype system DiBEx (Dialogue-Based Explanation) is described in section 4.

3 Previous Work
3.1 CALL Systems: Introduction

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL)[2] systems were developed as early as the 60s, when mainframe computers were installed at universities and large firms and experimentation with more personalized, non-mathematical and industrial uses of the computer began. The pedagogy at that time was largely convinced of the value of repetitive and memorization tasks for the learning of language and the use of computerized exercises meant alleviation for the teacher, but the use of such programs remained limited. In the 70s the role of the teacher began to change toward the role of a tutor, not only a corrector, who communicates more individually with the students and sets tasks. During this time (70s and 80s) the computer world was revolutionized by the introduction of Personal Computers for individual use. The flexibility of PCs in schools and in the workplace lead to initial euphoria about the role of the computer in learning. Initially the attraction of the new medium seemed so all pervasive, that it was often thought that the mere opportunity to use the computer meant that the students would concentrate on the learning tasks. Pedagogy in the CALL software was often ignored or restricted and lagged behind the changes taking place in the classrooms. The introduction of multimedia (audio, video, advanced graphics) in the 90s greatly improved the user attractiveness of the medium. Also the new communication technologies such as the Web and email meant direct access to original language environments. This convinced many users to invest in a PC for the home, also because of the growing pressure toward life-long learning to secure the workplace and participate in social life. Even though these developments increased the market for CALL products, it also increased the drive to rapid commercialization and reduction of funds for research and prototyping.

Although many commercial products are now available for a variety of language learning tasks, the pedagogical demands have also increased. The computer no longer has the role of being a mere tool for ‘drill and kill’ exercises, nor even that of a tutor imparting ‘neutral’ information or knowledge, it is expected to be a teacher or facilitator. Real life teachers of course have a variety of choices at their disposal to respond to a student. They can respond both in writing and orally, make judgements about the students’ expertise and learning progress and adapt accordingly, in certain teaching situations they can overlook language errors to advance the communicative tasks and build confidence. This flexibility of the teacher, both consciously driven by the curriculum and the underlying pedagogy and partly driven by intuition, is very difficult to simulate.

Research in this direction is sometimes referred to as Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS), or more specifically for the language learning field, Intelligent CALL (ICALL). These systems are conceived to include a user model, a tutorial model and underlying NLP tools. The user model registers the learner history (exercises chosen, errors made), the tutorial model includes the general curriculum and the individual exercises, as well as the response routines. Ideally both the diagnosis and response routines are supported by NLP tools, such as a parser. All modules should be dynamic, i.e. output should change according to the information supplied by the other modules. These tasks are certainly not trivial, but would improve the quality of CALL systems. One of the criticisms of the current systems is the rigidity in handling the input and in responding to the student. Most exercises allow at the most the input of short phrases, sometimes only clicking and moving graphic objects. Behind such systems are fixed sets of correct input to the exercises. However, learners respond with irritation when an alternative but correct answer is not accepted. Another reason for irritation is the fact that systems often cannot analyze faulty input and do not give error explanations. If error explanations are provided, these are usually fixed sets of responses to anticipated errors. Even though experienced teachers can often anticipate which errors students will make, the limitations of such an approach for a computer system are clear: if the error was not anticipated, there will be no reaction at all and if the explanation given is not understood there is no possibility of asking the teacher.

These limitations can be overcome to a certain extent by introducing NLP techniques, such as parsing, to analyze the input as well as to provide an indepth error diagnosis. Building on such a diagnosis, a response can be generated, which then can also be varied according to input of the user model and the tutorial model.
3.2 The Problem of Error Diagnosis

In this section we discuss the problem of error diagnosis which is a prerequisite for any error explanation. In general, parsing ill-formed sentences for error diagnosis is not trivial, especially if the correct solution is unknown. In DiBEx, the problem is somewhat relaxed, since the correct solution is known, i.e. is specified in advance by a human exercise creator. This simplifies error diagnosis significantly, as we will discuss in section 4.2. We nevertheless give here a brief overview of the general problems involved in error diagnosis.


~ by jeanehistoria on December 29, 2009.

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