Kognito in EdSurge

A recently published piece in EdSurge explores how Kognito’s interactive role-play conversations with virtual humans to train teachers and staff to have more empathetic conversations. Read an excerpt below, and access the full piece here.

Kognito’s use of animated virtual agents instead of actors is different, but the general idea is similar. Scenarios still involve choosing dialogue options from a list—some nurturing, others more blunt—and receiving feedback.

In addition to building trust and empathy, the company also aims to teach so-called “gatekeeper skills,” or the ability to identify distress, talk meaningfully about concerns and motivate students to speak with a counselor, says Kognito’s [Dr. Glenn] Albright.

“This virtual human—let’s say a student—is programmed with memory, personality, emotion, and it will react like a real student in psychological distress,” Albright explains. Virtual students will remember if you’ve said something judgemental earlier in the conversation, and appreciate attempts to build trust and empathize. After interactions, a virtual coach dispenses feedback on choices and occasionally thought bubbles appear, providing a window into what students are thinking.

To teach these context-specific skills, such as building trust with students, a simulation like Kognito relies on techniques like motivational interviewing, an intervention which is used to help prepare another person to make a change in their life—in this case, sitting down with a mental health counselor for the first time. “It’s a very respectful way of speaking with people,” explains Albright. Teachers might select open-ended questions from a list of choices to get students to share, and then reflect back what the student said to show they’re listening. “We begin to feel comfortable, and that’s exactly what happens in these simulations,” he says.



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