Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Student Success in STEM in Education   

Janice Gobert

While artificial intelligence (AI) may seem like a recent phenomenon, Dr. Janice Gobert has been working with AI since 2000. She is a professor of Educational Psychology and Learning Sciences who wants to see AI play a bigger role in STEM teaching and learning.

A Canadian native, Dr. Gobert earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Laurentian University, a master’s in Cognitive Science from McGill University, and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from the University of Toronto.

As an undergraduate studying psychology, Dr. Gobert planned to become a licensed school psychologist focused on assessment. But as she studied how people understand and remember words, Dr. Gobert discovered there was a dearth of research on how people interpret and reason with diagrams. She became interested in semantically rich diagrams, eager to study how people understood a diagram where information is delivered simultaneously, versus text where a learner reads each word in sequence. This curiosity led to her graduate studies.

Dr. Gobert was also interested in science reform movements that were responding to the realization that many students were parroting concepts they did not understand.

Reform movements like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are interested in developing students’ authentic practices of science, such as how they form hypotheses, collect and interpret data, and communicate what they’ve learned, Dr. Gobert noted.

“With the NGSS, there’s no way teachers can assess and support students without rigorous technology. Teachers and AI-based technology need to have the data and functionalities to support students in real-time,” Dr. Gobert said, noting she and her team have interviewed hundreds of teachers about the rollout and implementation of NGSS.

Dr. Gobert also said that AI needs to play a role in helping personalize students’ learning, and to provide educators with formative data and supports for whomever needs help and how to best help them. “This is instrumental for teachers to make data-driven decisions on the fly for whole-class instruction, differentiated instruction to small groups, or 1:1 support with individual students. AI can identify where students are weak and point out where they’re strong, which can help them find their way in the world to careers that are well-suited to them,” Dr. Gobert said.

To improve assessment by teachers, Dr. Gobert leveraged artificial intelligence. She filed her first patent on the technology in 2013, and ten years later, has three issued patents for AI in her system, Inq-ITS. She also has three eyetracking patents. She leverages AI and big data to generate real-time information and personalized learning for science students. Inq-ITS develops digital products for learning and assessment and conducts educational data mining. “We use our patented AI to support the full ecosystem: the teachers’ assessment, the teachers’ instruction, and the students’ realtime learning on all the practices of science to realize and scale the needs described in science reform documents like NGSS,” Dr. Gobert said.

“This work excites me because it brings together the humancomputer- interaction aspect—how the person perceives this simulation and this interface—which of course attracts me as a cognitive psychologist. How users’ knowledge, or lack thereof, guides them, and then how you can use computer science and AI to govern and instrument those systems to collect students’ mouse clicks and turn them into bonafide AI-based techniques to support students and the teacher in real-time,” Dr. Gobert said.

Rutgers GSE has remained Dr. Gobert’s home for several reasons. One is the school’s strength in training STEM educators. “If we are just in the ivory tower, there is no point to what we do. It must hit classrooms and teachers. It must have an impact,” Dr. Gobert said.

Dr. Gobert also credited GSE’s strong emphasis on diversity and equity, especially in underserved communities, and the deep care that GSE faculty have for students. Looking to the future of GSE, this is where Dr. Gobert wants the school to continue making an impact.

“GSE is building a cadre of graduate students and future educators who know how students learn and know how to leverage their students’ strengths and help them where they need improvement. Training the next generation of learners is the most important thing that we can do as a society, because education and technology to support it can be the great equalizer,” Dr. Gobert said.

Read more success stories in the 2023 Rutgers Graduate School of Education Impact Report.