Faculty Advisor

Ryan Baker

Faculty Advisor

Neil Heffernan

Faculty Advisor

Sonia Chernova


Over the past couple decades, intelligent tutoring systems (ITSs) have become popular in education. ITSs are effective at helping students learn (VanLehn, 2011; Razzaq, Mendicino & Heffernan, 2008; Koedinger et al, 1997) and help researchers understand how students learn. Such research has included modeling how students learn (Corbett & Anderson, 1995), the effectiveness of help given within an ITS (Beck et al, 2008), the difficulty of different problems (Pardos & Heffernan, 2011), and predicting long-term outcomes like college attendance (San Pedro et al, 2013a), among many other studies.

While most studies have focused on ITSs from a cognitive perspective, a growing number of researchers are paying attention to the motivational and affective aspects of tutoring, which have been recognized as important components of human tutoring (Lepper et al, 1993). Recent work has shown that student affect within an ITS can be detected, even without physical sensors or cameras (D’Mello et al, 2008; Conati & Maclaren, 2009; Sabourin et al, 2011; San Pedro et al, 2013b).

Initial studies with these sensor-less affect detectors have shown that certain problematic affective states, such as boredom, confusion and frustration, are prevalent within ITSs (Baker et al, 2010b). Boredom in particular has been linked to negative learning outcomes (Pekrun et al, 2010; Farmer & Sundberg, 1986) and long-term disengagement (Farrell, 1988). Therefore, reducing or responding effectively to these affective states within ITSs may improve both short- and long-term learning outcomes.

This work is an initial attempt to determine what causes boredom in ITSs. First, we determine which is more responsible for boredom in ITSs: the content in the system, or the students themselves. Based on the findings of that analysis, we conduct a randomized controlled trial to determine the effects of monotony on student boredom. In addition to the work on boredom, we also perform analyses that concern student modeling, specifically how to improve Knowledge Tracing (Corbett & Anderson, 1995), a popular student model used extensively in real systems like the Cognitive Tutors (Koedinger et al, 1997) and in educational research.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Computer Science

Project Type


Date Accepted





intelligent tutoring systems, bayesian knowledge tracing, student modeling, boredom