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New VitalSource Feature Offers AI-Generated Practice Activities

Education technology company VitalSource has added a component to Bookshelf, its digital textbook platform, to generate practice activities. The new function, CoachMe, uses artificial intelligence to generate questions that are formed from the text and shown in the margins of the page. The intent is to help students figure out whether or not they grasp the concepts they're reading about.

The questions are formulated using the company's SmartStart question-generation engine, which is based on technology from Acrobatiq, a learning and data analytics software firm the company bought in 2018.

According to VitalSource, the software takes advantage of what has been dubbed the "doer effect," a concept introduced by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. The doer effect is the idea that students learn best by interacting with content rather than passively taking in information. In a study of 12,500 students in four Open Learning Initiative online courses, researchers found that learning increased by a factor of six when students also participated in activities aligned to measurable learning objectives and received feedback targeting their misconceptions.

Bookshelf's CoachMe is intended to automate the work of creating those interactive questions, taking it out of the hands of instructors.

In a study undertaken by VitalSource researchers and a former senior analyst at Western Governors University (now a senior data scientist at Pearson), the team determined that questions automatically generated with AI were as effective as human-generated questions.

"Having replicated the doer effect research using our Acrobatiq courseware, we wanted to find a way to make this learn-by-doing approach more accessible to students," said VitalSource Learning Science Specialist Rachel Van Campenhout, in a press release. "Harnessing AI to generate the practice needed for the doer effect and creating the Bookshelf CoachMe feature democratizes this learning science approach." Van Campenhout was one of the co-authors of the VitalSource/Western Governors U study.

"This isn't just about an innovative technology; this is about leveling the playing field for students, creating something that can help them learn easier and faster at no extra cost, and making sure it's available for everyone," added Mike Hale, vice president of education for VitalSource. "With Bookshelf CoachMe, we have made it possible to activate the trifecta of learning — read, study and practice — within the Bookshelf platform, with no administrative lift."

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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