-= Talk to Eddie on the Web =-
|EddieEdit is a Macintosh story writing assistance system for children in grades 2-5. It addresses two important difficulties young writers face by using a unique combination of instruction in the phases of story writing (planning, writing, and revising) and a conversational computer character.|
Story writing is an important and beneficial activity for children. Educators note that it is a good way to teach writing in general because it is entertaining and stimulates children's imaginations. The creative act of writing a story, in which the child invents the whole world of the story, also can aid cognitive development and can make stories particularly satisfying to create.
There are numerous systems to aid in writing, and several that offer particular help to story writers. These range from a system called Catch, used to point out grammatical problems to grade school students, to essay-writing brainstorming aids for college students. Here in the Gesture and Narrative Language Group, the Rosebud system by Jennifer Glos and Matthew Sakai is one of the only systems for young writers that uses conversational prompts to encourage story writing. The system made important progress, but the voice of Rosebud gives no indication of why it wants to hear a story, and there is no structural help provided to help children tie story concepts together more easily. A conversational GNL system developed before Rosebud is Marina Umaschi Bers's Sage. Sage, the concept of which is being carried forward in the current project Wise, is not a system to aid in creative story writing. It does, however, ask children to discuss problems or type short stories of personal experience. Also, although Sage does not discuss story writing phases or story elements, some of the characters developed in the system do have personalities and motivations. Since the educational focus of Sage is building storytelling agents, however, no research has been done to see how conversation with a character might aid story writing.
EddieEdit contains the same sort of planning and revision tips that are found in existing prompting systems. Independent of the ability to offer help on story planning or revision, however, conversational interaction and the presence of a computer character with personality can assist the user in story writing. EddieEdit interacts with the child initially by introducing Eddie, a child editor, who asks about story planning and responds to the child's input. Here's an example (with much more text than the actual system) from an early mock-up of EddieEdit:
The planning conversation with Eddie is now available interactively at (http://paradise.media.mit.edu/eddie/). After planning, the system will open a new window for story writing, and allow the user to look back at the story planning conversation during the actual writing of the story. Finally, in the story revision phase, the computer will converse again with the child in a seperate window, and allow the child to make revisions in the story window. This process supports the planning, writing, and revision of stories as separate phases, and adds a new educational intervention before and after the main writing process. Since young writers should not learn to write only in conversation, Eddie (who is, after all, an editor and not a co-author) lets the child actually write without conversational cues, although the story plan that was developed in conversation will be visible.
Results from a study will determine the effectiveness of EddieEdit. The two-week study is taking place in a third-grade classroom. Children will write stories all using the classroom's usual world processor before and after the main part of the study, and then seperate into three groups. All during the main part of the study each groups will use one of three different systems: EddieEdit; E-Write, a simple text editor used as one control system; and StoryStages, a non-conversational help system with the same interface and story knowledge as EddieEdit, also used as a control. Determination of story development and quality will be made using metrics such as sentence complexity, presence of story elements, coherence, cohesion, number of story events, number of propositions about the story world, description of characters' internal states, and overall evaluation by experts on story writing.
The system and study outlined here demonstrate a concrete use of conversational computer characters. This will, hopefully, encourage other researchers and commerical software developers to develop more advanced conversational characters to aid children in writing stories. The StoryStages and EddieEdit systems developed in this work can also be of immediate benefit in the classroom.
Updated April 1998.