The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Does a new bilingual tutoring software that tutors math and language (English & Spanish) and uses Latinx digital avatars, improve students’ math skills, language skills, and feelings of connection to math?

Arroyo Research team pic

Researchers in early education and computer science at UMass Amherst have teamed up to address the growing need for new learning technologies that address the needs of bilingual (spanish and english) students, with personalized hispanic digital avatars. Addressing the problem of one-size-fits-all approach to education, this research responds to the need to personalize tech for individual student needs: Using alternative languages and representations of content, deploying avatars that reflect their identities, and providing personal pathways through the curriculum. The research is funded by the Institute of Diversity Sciences at UMass Amherst, which supports multidisciplinary STEM research that advances social justice. 

Hispanics are 18.4% of the U.S. population, but they constitute only 12% of those seeking Bachelors degrees in STEM fields, and only 8% of STEM workers nationwide (see Pew Research Center Report here). One significant reason for this inequity, is that hispanic children are not provided the same incentives and resources to seek out STEM education and careers as their non-hispanic peers. The problem is compounded because there are few Latinx in STEM role models for students to emulate. This cuts off Latinx kids feeling of connection to STEM, and even their confidence in doing math. For those children new to the country and English-Learners (EL), things are even more difficult as they try to learn math, while also learning a new language, often in English-only classroom settings. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed severe gaps in learning technologies that further limit access to STEM learning for hispanic and migrant populations who are EL. Researchers (pictured above) Ivon Arroyo (mathematics, science and learning technologies), Marialuisa Di Stefano (language, literacy, and culture) and Beverly Woolf (computer sciences) aim to counter these trends by developing and testing a new bilingual tutoring software that uses Latinx digital avatars.  

This project will modify an existing federally funded, online learning technology built with NSF support, called MathSpring. This is a math learning platform for grades 5-8, which adjusts the language (English/Spanish) depending on student preferences and needs, and deploys multiracial digital tutors. The team will test this technology by offering it for free to hispanic students in math classes and afterschool programs in Holyoke, MA. The technology has a dual goal: to tutor math and language (English or Spanish) simultaneously. The researchers will test whether it improves students’ math skills, english and/or spanish skills, and feelings of connection to math.

student on computerBy offering broad access to online tutoring software that addresses students’ socio-emotional and cognitive needs, while learning STEM, the team’s overarching goal is to engage more hispanic students in STEM.  

IDS funds will allow this faculty team to hire a Black, Latinx, or Indigenous graduate student who is proficient in Spanish to provide hands-on training to support all project activities. The student will be mentored in these skills by an interdisciplinary faculty team of Latinx women with expertise in bilingual education, education technologies, and mathematics education.