ITLS Researcher Receives NSF Grant to Integrate AI into Science Classrooms

July 11, 2023
Ha Nguyen
Ha Nguyen is an assistant professor in Instructional Technology and Leanring Sciences at Utah State.

Ha Nguyen, assistant professor in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University, has been awarded a grant of $499,801 by the National Science Foundation as a co-principal investigator on an Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) project. Titled Equity-Centered Design of Conversational Agents for Inclusive Science Communication Education in High Schools, the project will focus on utilizing AI technology to enhance the way science communication is taught in schools and help students develop a better understanding of scientific concepts. This research represents a partnership between Utah State University, University of California-Irvine (PI Rossella Santagata), and community partners in Orange County, California (Co-PI Sara Ludovise).

According to Nguyen, this project is a natural continuation of her work in science education through conversational agents, which are dialogue systems that process inputs and respond automatically using human language. Using recent advances in artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, Nguyen will provide leadership in developing conversational agents to be integrated into high school curriculum that will help students learn about science communication and marine biodiversity.

“Communicating scientific discoveries to broad audiences is an important literacy skill, but this skill is not often taught explicitly in schools,” said Nguyen. “A curriculum that integrates AI technologies will support students in developing a multifaceted understanding of biodiversity, but we will also embed these tools within a meaningful learning context to teach students about science communication.”

Over a three-year period, the project will engage high school students from predominantly Latinx schools in Orange County, California. Students will interact with AI agents that represent different community perspectives, and they will also be able to develop their own agents to share views on marine conservation. By allowing students to share their experience and interact with different perspectives, the project also aims to provide equal opportunities students from all backgrounds to access quality science education, including underrepresented groups such as women and minorities.  

Approaching learning this way will encourage students to be actively engaged in scientific ideas through discussions and inquiries grounded in local contexts. Nguyen’s goal is for the students to gain a deeper understanding of science by engaging in the process. The conversational agents will be developed in collaboration with students, educators, community stakeholders, and scientists in order to ensure best-practice teaching methods and develop effective educational materials.

Nguyen and her team will begin the process of designing the conversational agents this year and will pilot them in classrooms next year.