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My name is Nichola; I'm a human-computer interaction researcher at Arizona State University. In general, I am interested in how we can create engaging and productive experiences with technology by incorporating what we know about how people interact with one another into artificial intelligence technologies.

My Past Research

People are fascinatingly social communicators from how we smile and gesture to what we say and how we say it. We will adapt to one another, changing the way we talk, what we say, and even how we move. With the rise of voiced personal assistants like Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Microsoft's Cortana, we see computers entering mainstream society as communicators, and while they're improving, they still haven't mastered that crucial ability to be social. And there are open questions about whether and how these systems should be socially engaging.

Within education, we see that systems which can engage a student socially may improve learning and motivation. For example, teachable agents are agents which students can teach about a subject domain. Based on the concept of 'learning-by-teaching,' students learn from teaching by reflecting on their own misconceptions and elaborating on their knowledge to construct explanations. When students teach an agent, those that feel more rapport for their agent-partner are likely to benefit more.

In my work I have explored the development of socially engaging systems through the application of rapport-building phenomena in human-agent interactions. There are many elements to creating social engagement, through dialogue, movement, and gesture; my work has focused largely on acoustic-prosodic entrainment. Acoustic-prosodic entrainment occurs when individuals' adapt their acoustic-prosodic features of speech to one another - their tone of voice, their speaking rate, how loud or soft they are speaking. In human-human interactions, entrainment appears to play a major role in social factors such as rapport, agreement, and task success as well as learning. My research explored the role entrainment can play in human-agent interactions and how individual differences such as gender and prior experience drive responses to rapport-building behaviors like entrainment.

Current Research

In my current work, I am exploring how we can utilize the tools of machine learning and data science to understand the role of acoustic-prosodic entrainment in dysarthric populations, and to implement spoken dialogue tools clinicians can utilize to help individuals with speech dysarthria.