The Inclusive Intelligent Technologies for Education (INVITE) Institute uses AI (artificial intelligence) technologies to make STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education more equitable in K-12 schools.
The national center serves as a nexus poised to answer the question “What can AI do to help achieve education for all?” It is composed of 24 researchers from seven universities, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), which is spearheading the project. Other partners include Temple University, University of Florida, University of Michigan, University of Oregon, University of Southern California, Wright State University, and Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit assessment organization.
INVITE launched on June 1, with some projects still in the development phase, says H. Chad Lane, PhD, principal investigator and director of INVITE and associate professor of educational psychology at UIUC. Across numerous projects they will be involved in, the initiative is aimed at building better systems for understanding and supporting STEM education, he says.
“Our focus is on underlying techniques and the research we can do to identify … empirical and evidence-based approaches to promote these skills [persistence, resilience, and collaboration] and prove that they do lead to better outcomes, especially for those who are underrepresented in STEM,” says Lane.
INVITE partners on STARS Computing Corps, a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of the Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance (BPC-A) project, which focuses on increasing representation in computer science. Three outcomes result through efforts spearheaded by INVITE: college students train to conduct local K-12 outreach focused on AI concepts; K-12 teacher workshops explore ethics, bias, and diversity in AI for lesson planning; and work with university faculty to support AI-enabled education and research.
“If we can provide opportunities early for all students in elementary school, it can really help to provide a different set of social expectations and provide early exposure for students that can really spark their interest and help them to see themselves doing computing or STEM later in life,” says Jamie Payton, PhD, co-principal investigator of BPC-A at INVITE and computer science education professor at Temple University.
Another INVITE project, known as What-If Hypothetical Implementations in Minecraft, aims to educate students about astronomy through the popular video game Minecraft by exploring the scientific consequences of alternative versions of Earth. It uses AI tools to assist teachers — for example, a nonplayer character guiding students in a game, feedback provided through chat, or guidance on a game map for students to find science-relevant activities, says Jeff Ginger, PhD, who works on technology and community engagement with INVITE and is a senior research scientist at UIUC.
INVITE is part of a larger effort by NSF aimed at developing a diverse AI workforce and addressing risks posed by the technology by establishing institutes across the nation. In 2023, INVITE was one of seven institutes announced in the third cohort of the project, established with $140 million in funding. Of the 25 NSF-funded AI institutes, five of them focus on education, Lane says, each with specific research goals.
“If we achieve our goals … we will have improved pedagogical agents, we’ll have these really huge datasets that can support other researchers, and we’ll have a better understanding of teacher practices with AI-enabled systems that have been co-designed with teachers,” Payton says. “We will have built some capacity for trying to increase representation in computing and AI education [and have prepared] K-12 teachers to think about how to broaden participation of students.”●
This article was published in our September 2023 issue.