This article examines the educational efficacy of a learning environment in which children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) engage in social interactions with an artificially intelligent (AI) virtual agent and where a human practitioner acts in support of the interactions. A multi-site intervention study in schools across the UK was conducted with 29 children with ASC and learning difficulties, aged 4--14 years old. For reasons related to data completeness and amount of exposure to the AI environment, data for 15 children was included in the analysis. The analysis revealed a significant increase in the proportion of social responses made by ASC children to human practitioners. The number of initiations made to human practitioners and to the virtual agent by the ASC children also increased numerically over the course of the sessions. However, due to large individual differences within the ASC group, this did not reach significance. Although no evidence of transfer to the real-world post-test was shown, anecdotal evidence of classroom transfer was reported. The work presented in this article offers an important contribution to the growing body of research in the context of AI technology design and use for autism intervention in real school contexts. Specifically, the work highlights key methodological challenges and opportunities in this area by leveraging interdisciplinary insights in a way that (i) bridges between educational interventions and intelligent technology design practices, (ii) considers the design of technology as well as the design of its use (context and procedures) on par with one another, and (iii) includes design contributions from different stakeholders, including children with and without ASC diagnosis, educational practitioners, and researchers.
- artificially intelligent agent
- social communication
- intelligent learning environments