Event: Undergraduate Research Symposium
Date: May 18, 2019
Location: UCI Student Center
Presenters: Yongjia Song, Xinwei Deng
Mentor: Mark Warschauer
Title: Young Children’s Reading with Conversational Agents: The Role of Age and Language Status
Conversational agents (CAs) that support natural speech interactions can potentially facilitate young children’s literacy development. Our team developed a CA that can narrate a story to children and engage them in story-related conversations. This study is guided by two research questions: 1) Can the CA-initiated conversations during the reading enhance children's comprehension of the story content? and 2) Do children’s responses to CA-initiated conversations vary by their age and oral language proficiency? To investigate these two questions, we randomly assigned ten children into: 1) CA with dialogue group where the CA reads the story for children and asks content-related questions during reading; or 2) CA without dialogue group where the CA reads the story for children without any questions. We collected data on children's oral language skills, their response to the in-story questions, and performance in a post-reading comprehension questionnaire. We found that children who interacted with CA scored higher in comprehension than those who only listened to the story. Children’s age and oral language skills were positively correlated with their ability to answer in-story questions. In addition, English-only children scored slightly higher than ESL and Bilingual children on in-story questions. Our results suggested that CAs may be used as a dialogic reading partner for young children. However, children’s interactions with CAs may also depend on their age and oral language skills. As such, future CA design may want to tailor to the special needs of younger children and those from linguistically diverse backgrounds.