Learning with Laura: investigating the effects of a pedagogical agent on Spanish lexical acquisition
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of an animated pedagogical agent on Spanish vocabulary learning. Furthermore, the study examined learners’ reactions and attitudes towards the presence of the pedagogical agent in a web-based environment, as well as how learners used the conversational component of the pedagogical agent in their learning process. A total of 47 university students enrolled in two fourth-semester Spanish classes participated in this study. Both the Control group and the Experimental group used a web-based environment that presented new vocabulary (in audio and text), along with activities for practicing the vocabulary in context. The difference between the two groups was that an animated pedagogical agent (Laura) was present in the environment used by the Experimental group. In addition, a conversational component was added at a second phase to the environment used by the Experimental group, which the learners used to chat with the pedagogical agent about the material presented. The data were analyzed through quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative data were derived from a demographic information questionnaire, a vocabulary pre-test and two vocabulary post-tests (an immediate post-test and a delayed post-test), as well as from attitudes scales completed prior to the learners’ exposure to the web-based environments and after completing the learning sessions. The qualitative data were derived from a learning experience questionnaire completed by all learners at the end of the learning sessions, as well as from the scripts of the chat sessions between the learners in the Experimental group and the pedagogical agent, and a chatting experience questionnaire completed by the same group. Analysis of the quantitative data did not yield significant differences between the Control and the Experimental groups with respect to vocabulary learning outcomes and affective outcomes. Analysis of the qualitative data revealed learners’ preferences with respect to features embedded in the web-based language learning environments. In addition, it explored how learners utilized the conversational aspect of the pedagogical agent, and provided information as to the type of information the agent’s knowledge base should include in order for the agent to be a beneficial tool for the learners’ progress.