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Machine-Assisted Teaching for Open-Ended Problem Solving: Foundations and Applications


Computational thinking and problem solving skills are essential for everyone in the 21st century, both for students to excel in STEM+Computing fields and for adults to thrive in the digital economy. Consequently, educators are putting increasing emphasis on pedagogical tasks in open-ended domains such as programming, conceptual puzzles, and virtual reality environments. When learning to solve such open-ended tasks by themselves, people often struggle. The difficulties are embodied in the very nature of tasks being open-ended: (a) underspecified (multiple solutions of variable quality), (b) conceptual (no well-defined procedure), (c) sequential (series of interdependent steps needed), and (d) exploratory (multiple pathways to reach a solution). These struggling learners can benefit from individualized assistance, for instance, by receiving personalized curriculum across tasks or feedback within a task. Unfortunately, human tutoring resources are scarce, and receiving individualized human-assistance is rather a privilege. Technology empowered by artificial intelligence has the potential to tackle this scarcity challenge by providing scalable and automated machine-assisted teaching. However, the state-of-the-art technology is limited: it is designed for well-defined procedural learning, but not for open-ended conceptual problem solving. The TOPS project will develop next-generation technology for machine-assisted teaching in open-ended domains. We will design novel algorithms for assisting the learner by bridging reinforcement learning, imitation learning, cognitive science, and symbolic reasoning. Our theoretical foundations will be based on a computational framework that models the learner as a reinforcement learning agent who gains mastery with the assistance of an automated teacher. In addition to providing solid foundations, we will demonstrate the performance of our techniques in a wide range of pedagogical applications.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 495 000,00
Hofgartenstrasse 8
80539 Munchen

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Bayern Oberbayern München, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Research Organisations
Other funding
€ 0,00