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Project Brief

Open Competition 3 - Information Technology

Two Sigma Math Tutor

Develop an intelligent tutoring system that models expert tutor behavior as well as what the tutor is observing about the student to create a computer-based effective teacher's aid that complements teacher-led classroom instruction.

Sponsor: Acuitus, Inc.

81 Encina Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301-2322
  • Project Performance Period: 10/1/2003 - 9/30/2006
  • Total project (est.): $2,273,905.21
  • Requested ATP funds: $2,000,000.00

Acuitus would like every middle-school math student to have access to an expert personal tutor. Today, the small company's vision is not attainable. Effective, highly skilled human tutors are not plentiful, and most charge fees beyond many family budgets. So, Acuitus is setting out to develop the digital equivalent of an expert - and affordable - math tutor. Currently, educational software applications and systems are based almost exclusively on models of how students learn, important but not sufficient for successful instruction. The missing ingredient is modeling how effective tutors teach in one-to-one situations. Acuitus intends to address this void in this two-year project. Working with faculty at Stanford University's Department of Psychology, it will carry out a multidisciplinary program that integrates research on effective instruction in areas ranging from communication, educational, and motivational theory to artificial intelligence and several fields of psychology. A major challenge will be integrating these disparate pieces into a whole that complements models of student learning. The envisioned digital tutor would be able to interact - affectively and socially - with a broad range of students in ways that are almost indistinguishable from a live expert tutor. In field trials, classroom outcomes will be used to judge how successful Acuitus is in digitally replicating how expert tutors teach. Research credits expert tutoring with a "2-sigma improvement" in student outcomes - equivalent to a jump from the bottom tier to the top tier of a class with respect to educational performance. The eventual software system would complement classroom instruction, serving as a teacher's aid. It would help teachers to provide quality education to a greater number of students, closing the educational gap within classrooms and raising standardized test scores. Because of the early-stage of the software technology s development and challenging technical risks, potential private-sector resources, such as venture capital firms and commercial educational institutions, have declined to fund the company's efforts. Philanthropic organizations were deterred by Acuitus' for-profit status.

For project information:
Maria Machado, (650) 833-5710

ATP Project Manager
Jack Boudreaux, (301) 975-3560

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