HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.


To emulate the interactivity of in-person math instruction, we developed MathBot, a rulebased chatbot that explains math concepts, provides practice questions, and offers tailored feedback. We evaluated MathBot through three Amazon Mechanical Turk studies in which participants learned about arithmetic sequences. In the first study, we found that more than 40% of our participants indicated a preference for learning with MathBot over videos and written tutorials from Khan Academy. The second study measured learning gains, and found that MathBot produced comparable gains to Khan Academy videos and tutorials. We solicited feedback from users in those two studies to emulate a real-world development cycle, with some users finding the lesson too slow and others finding it too fast. We addressed these concerns in the third and main study by integrating a contextual bandit algorithm into MathBot to personalize the pace of the conversation, allowing the bandit to either insert extra practice problems or skip explanations. We randomized participants between two conditions in which actions were chosen uniformly at random (i.e., a randomized A/B experiment) or by the contextual bandit. We found that the bandit learned a similarly effective pedagogical policy to that learned by the randomized A/B experiment while incurring a lower cost of experimentation. Our findings suggest that personalized conversational agents are promising tools to complement existing online resources for math education, and that data-driven approaches such as contextual bandits are valuable tools for learning effective personalization.


Cai, William, Josh Grossman, Zhiyuan Jerry Lin, Hao Sheng, Johnny Tian-Zheng Wei, Joseph Jay Williams, and Sharad Goel. "Bandit algorithms to personalize educational chatbots." Machine Learning 110 (May 2021): 2389-2418.