Teachers For Research & Feedback (TFRF) Researcher Spotlight: Anthony Botelho

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This month, we shine a light on Anthony Botelho, Research Scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who has been working on the federally funded project focused on helping teachers provide meaningful feedback to their students more efficiently, known as QUICK-Comments.

Welcome to the second installation of the Teacher for Research & Feedback Spotlight Series. This month, we shine a light on Anthony Botelho, Research Scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Anthony talked with Product Associate Allishah Luke from the ASSISTments team about his experience conducting research via ASSISTments. The following is their conversation:

Allishah : Hi Anthony, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I am so excited to give our readers an “inside” look into the work you do behind the scenes at ASSISTments. Let’s start with how you got started with research within  ASSISTments  -take us to the beginning of your research journey. 

Anthony: Thanks for the opportunity to share my experience conducting research with our readers, Allishah. I started conducting research within ASSISTments in 2014 as a graduate student. I continued to use the platform to develop new tools and study learning as a doctoral student and even now as a research scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 

I have recently accepted a tenure-track position at the University of Florida and am excited to also continue collaboration with WPI and ASSISTments in the years to come.

Allishah: Wow,  congratulations!  How did your focus on research for scoring and providing meaningful feedback come about?

Anthony: We spoke with dozens of teachers from across the country who, almost unanimously, expressed that they needed better support in providing meaningful feedback to their students’ answers to open-ended questions. Many of these teachers spent hours week after week reading student answers and writing meaningful feedback messages, while others began to avoid assigning these types of questions despite recognizing that they could be useful in assessing their students’ understanding of the given topics. 

That’s how QUICK-Comments began. 

Allishah:  Wow, that’s really impactful that your research question began with direct feedback from teachers. Can you elaborate a little more about the work you do with  QUICK-Comments?

Anthony: Sure, we started with a project called DRIVER-SEAT - the Dialogue Reinforcement Infrastructure for Volitional Exploratory Research- Soliciting Effective Actions from Teachers  a federally funded project focused on helping teachers provide meaningful feedback to their students more efficiently. 

In a broad sense, there are many areas of education where teachers want to provide feedback and communicate with their students, and this project is attempting to provide innovative solutions to help teachers do just that. 

The idea for QUICK-Comments originated from commercial products such as Google SmartReply (the technology that provides response suggestions to email), where my collaborators and I asked why similar technology isn’t available to teachers in educational settings. As such, we are building new educational tools that leverage state-of-the-art artificial intelligence (AI) methodologies to augment what teachers are able to do within and outside the classroom.

I strongly believe it is important to maintain the vital role that teachers hold in their students’ learning, and we are building these teacher-in-the-loop systems in support of that role (keeping teachers in the “driver’s seat” in terms of their students’ learning)

Allishah: This is really great that even when conducting research, ASSISTments is keeping teachers’ needs at the forefront. Having worked with you, I know that within the DRIVER- SEAT project, ASSISTments has actively involved teachers in the design of the tool QUICK-Comments. Can you explain a little about the QUICK-Comments tool for those who may be unfamiliar?

Anthony: Sure, QUICK-Comments (that is now available to all ASSISTments users) is the first tool developed and pilot-tested under the DRIVER-SEAT project. Just as Google SmartReply provides suggested email responses to users, QUICK-Comments uses similar technology to provide suggested assessment scores and feedback messages for teachers to deliver to their students. 

Though still undergoing research and testing to assess the tool’s effectiveness, our initial results combined with feedback from the teachers who have used the tool are very positive. The benefit of using tools such as QUICK-Comments, is that it is able to learn from the teachers that use it; as more teachers use the tool to provide feedback, it is able to learn and improve the suggestions that it generates over time. 

Allishah: Incredible - teachers are going to highly benefit from this tool! Moving right along, I think this is THE most important question of my interview with you: Why is it important for you to incorporate teachers’ voices into your project/research?

Anthony: I totally agree with you - this is the most important aspect of the research conducted within ASSISTments! As I have mentioned, I strongly believe that it is important to recognize and maintain the role that teachers hold in their students’ learning process. 

While I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of what is important to teachers from my research and as an educator myself, identifying and meeting the needs of teachers is the driving factor of the work that I do; as a researcher who studies learning and as a developer of educational technologies, teachers are the most important link in focusing on areas of importance – areas where we, as scientists and engineers, can make the most meaningful, positive impacts in education.

Allishah: As a former educator myself, it brings me so much joy knowing our platform elevates teachers’ voices. I am sure our readers would  love to know more about QUICK-Comments - how do you see AI (Artificial Intelligence) changing the game for teachers when it comes to scoring?

Anthony: With tools such as QUICK-Comments, there will always be limitations – the AI will never be perfect, and I believe such tools will always benefit by having human (or teacher) supervision. 

As such, I see these tools as providing support to augment, as opposed to replacing, teachers and other educators; they can help save time through suggestions and reports, allowing teachers to devote more of their time addressing those students who may benefit most from additional attention or supplemental instruction. 

Allishah: Anthony, THANK YOU for taking this time to talk to our readers. Any last comments or links to published research we can share with our readers?

Anthony:  It was my pleasure!  I think it is important to highlight that the research and development taking place under the DRIVER-SEAT project, including that of QUICK-Comments, is all data- and research-driven. There are a couple of papers that have already been published that describe some of the more technical aspects that have been incorporated into the development QUICK-Comments tool. I am excited to see that any teacher using ASSISTments can now sign up to get the feature turned on. 

In addition, as the research and development of this and similar tools are on-going, we have many more papers that are currently in preparation to be submitted for peer-reviewed publication. However, more information about these projects can also be found within previous posts on the ASSISTments blog.

Some of the more technical papers pertaining to these and other projects can be accessed from my webpage: https://www.abotelho.com/publications

Anthony Botelho has conducted research at WPI with and on ASSISTments since 2014 under the direction of Professor Neil Heffernan - co-founder of ASSISTments. Anthony started his work as an undergraduate and has been the lead researcher for QUICK-Comments. We at ASSISTments want to take this opportunity to wish Anthony the best of luck as he transitions into a new role as a tenured-track Professor at the University of Florida. Bravo Anthony! 

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