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Carnegie Mellon and Western Governors Building Career Coaching Agents

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Two universities will be working together on a research project to help students explore jobs. The National Science Foundation awarded almost $700,000 over three years to Western Governors University (WGU) and Carnegie Mellon University to create "intelligent coaching agents" for non-traditional students pursuing work in STEM.

The agents will use a combination of human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, machine learning and education to guide students to practical resources that can help them improve their chances of success in finding good jobs. Those resources will include human career coaches or peers to help participants build their confidence and motivation in problem-solving and decision-making related to their career hunts.

According to the researchers, the approach is heavily data-driven and embodies a machine-learning paradigm known as "socially-sensitive reinforcement learning" (SSRL). As the software generates guidance for students, it stays "sensitive" to their needs and preferences to increase the probability that they'll accept the guidance.

The data was generated by students who have completed their WGU degrees in the past. The project will facilitate transition of the research directly into practice at large scale through deployment to current students attending the university — some 106,000 people, with 7,000 new students enrolling every month. While the project will be housed inside Western Governors, the researchers expect the innovations being tested to change how career guidance works in all institutions of higher education.

"WGU is one of the nation's largest online universities, serving a population of working individuals seeking career transitions in the face of a dramatically changing career landscape," said Carolyn Rosé, principle investigator and professor in the Language Technologies Institute and Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon, in a statement. "We're building a sociotechnical solution that can have a real-world impact on decision-making. This partnership offers the opportunity for tremendous impact with populations who need the support most."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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