Conference Papers  |  ,   |  February 6, 2021

Teaching Tech to Talk: K-12 Conversational Artificial Intelligence: Literacy Curriculum and Development Tools

Conference paper by Jessica Van Brummelen, Tommy Heng and Viktoriya Tabunshchyk. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (EAAI 21).


With children talking to smart-speakers, smart-phones and even smart-microwaves daily, it is increasingly important to educate students on how these agents work—from underlying mechanisms to societal implications. Researchers are developing tools and curriculum to teach K-12 students broadly about artificial intelligence (AI); however, few studies have evaluated these tools with respect to AI-specific learning outcomes, and even fewer have addressed student learning about AI-based conversational agents. We evaluated our Conversational Agent Interface for MIT App Inventor and workshop curriculum with respect to 8 AI competencies from the literature. Furthermore, we analyze teacher (n=9) and student (n=47) feedback from workshops with the interface and recommend that future work (1) leverages design considerations to optimize engagement, (2) collaborates with teachers, and (3) addresses a range of student abilities through pacing and opportunities for extension. We found evidence for student understanding of all 8 competencies, with the most difficult concepts being AI ethics and machine learning. We recommend emphasizing these topics in future curricula.

The appendix can be found on GitHub. The Gist contains additional information about the studies presented in “Teaching Tech to Talk: K-12 Conversational Artificial Intelligence Literacy Curriculum and Development Tools” at EAAI 2021 (focused on learning outcomes) and “‘Alexa, Can I Program You?’: Student Perceptions of Conversational Artificial Intelligence Before and After Programming Alexa” at IDC 2021 (focused on student perceptions of Alexa).

  • Appendix A contains code snippets from the “cookbook” conversational AI skill developed in MIT App Inventor.
  • Appendix B contains links to the conversational AI curriculum (slides, tutorials, etc.) we taught students in the workshops.
  • Appendix C contains the questions asked on the questionnaires, codes we used for the thematic analysis (and example quotes), and visualizations of the results.
Talking Cookbook” Alexa Skill in MIT App Inventor. Runtime 6 minutes.