On Thursday, May 4, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced seven new National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes. In collaboration with other federal agencies and higher education institutions and additional stakeholders, this is a $140M investment to "advance a cohesive approach to AI-related opportunities and risks."

Part of the National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes Accelerating Research, Transforming Society and Growing the American Workforce program, Temple University along with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Florida and Educational Testing Services will have five years and $19.5M to pursue inclusive and intelligent technologies for education.

The Temple project is led by Jamie Payton, professor and chair of the Department of Computer and Information Sciences in the College of Science and Technology. Payton is also the director of the STARS Computing Corps, a national alliance of over more than 50 colleges and universities with the mission to broaden participation in computing. STARS has engaged over 2,500 college students in service-learning projects with regional K-12 schools, industry and community partners to inform, engage and prepare over 140,000 future students for entry and success in college computing programs.

"The challenge we are addressing is that in the United States, our K-12 school systems are designed around rigorous standards for learning, and there are significant gaps in access, relevance and outcomes, particularly for learners that come from underserved populations," said Payton. "We see social and emotional learning as the key missing component that would offer learners equal access to academic achievement."

The NSF-funded Institute for Inclusive and Intelligent Technologies for Education (INVITE) will reimagine how educational technologies interact with learners by developing AI tools and approaches that address the national challenge of an equitable education for all. With a higher response to learner needs, behaviors and development, this new generation of systems align with a holistic approach to learning. The institute will advance AI research to create intelligent tools in support of three social and emotional learning skills: persistence, academic resilience and collaboration. Research and outreach activities will include 96,000 learners across 24 school districts and nonprofits that span eight states.

The vision for this important work is to support the whole learner, meeting them where they are with intelligent technologies that can address persistence, resilience and collaboration. The aim is to amplify what teachers already do, with the added benefit of machine learning and natural language processing.

"Dr. Payton's efforts to address access to equitable educational opportunities is deeply valuable and aligns strongly with Temple's mission," said Provost Gregory N. Mandel. "I am thrilled that Dr. Payton and Temple University are part of the National Science Foundation's Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes."

INVITE's AI research will focus on classroom integration of AI-based tools that empower teachers to support learners more holistically and in more developmentally appropriate ways. Research will revolve around three interconnected strands: (1) Collect, analyze and share novel datasets for fair and robust machine learning and natural language understanding; (2) build novel, robust methods for understanding learner behaviors and persistent, integrated learner models that incorporate novel assessments of social and emotional skills; and (3) develop new inclusive, socially aware STEM learning environments that provide natural and adaptive interaction with socially aware pedagogical agents.

"I am so proud that a National AI Research Institute is now at Temple University," said Payton. "At Temple, our mission is to provide an excellent, affordable and inclusive education to all students. As a public university in the heart of Philadelphia, we want to build bridges in our local, national and global communities to advance education and opportunity for all."

The NSF notes that "artificial Intelligence has advanced tremendously and today promises personalized healthcare, enhanced national security, improved transportation and more effective education, to name just a few benefits."

Goals and long-term impacts of this important research aim to make advances in foundational AI, natural language processing, adaptive systems and broadening participation; creating a community of educators and community partners who participate in evidence-based best practices; and nurturing learner outcomes of persistence, resilience and collaboration.