By Greg Russell
Graesser received the University’s first Presidential Award for Lifetime Achievement
in Research during a ceremony in February. (Photo by Rhonda Cosentino)
This is an honor that might even leave Marco at a loss for words. Dr. Art Graesser, founding
co-director of the University of Memphis’ Institute for Intelligent Systems and one
of the creators of the AutoTutor intelligent tutoring program, received the first
Presidential Award for Lifetime Achievement in Research from the U of M during a ceremony
“This new award is the University’s highest level of research recognition given to
its faculty,” said U of M President Shirley Raines. “Dr. Graesser is most deserving.”
Graesser and his collaborators in the ISS have become world renowned for their work
in artificial intelligence tutoring systems, particularly with AutoTutor and its subsequent
editions. AutoTutor is a computer-based tutoring program that has been shown to improve
learning by one letter grade. An animated agent (talking head) on the computer screen
holds a conversation with the learner, prompting him or her much like what a human
teacher would do. One of the first prototypes of the talking head was dubbed “Marco.”
Graesser and his colleagues received a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation
in 1997 to fund the project.
“At that point, my life changed,” said Graesser, who was honored with the University’s
Eminent Faculty Award in 1999.
Graesser’s worth to the U of M hasn’t been lost on Dr. Andrew Meyers, vice provost
for Research and executive director of the U of M Research Foundation.
“Art has been the driving force for the development of big science here at the University,”
said Meyers. “In his 27 years with us, he and his longtime colleague Stan Franklin
and their team at the Institute for Intelligent Systems have pulled us into the modern
world of interdisciplinary science. This is a model that we are now replicating across
Added Dr. Max Louwerse, director of the IIS, “There is simply not a researcher I know
of who has a more diverse and interdisciplinary research agenda with high research
productivity across the board. His grants total many millions of dollars.”
"Today is one of the three major days of my entire life, and it always will be,” Graesser
said while accepting the award.
“This honor is clearly is the pinnacle of my career. I am deeply appreciative that
I am part of a network of talented researchers whose collective talents and support
have made it possible to achieve this level of recognition for our contributions to
the science of learning.”
After joining the U of M’s Department of Psychology in 1985, Graesser, along with
Franklin, a computer science research professor, established the IIS as one of the
first interdisciplinary research centers on campus. IIS research involves approximately
60 faculty and students from the fields of computer science, mathematics, cognitive
psychology, physics, neuroscience, education, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology,
engineering and business.
Graesser has worked on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, the National
Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research, the Institute of Education Sciences
and other national funders totaling more than $30 million.
In addition to publishing nearly 500 articles in journals, books and conference proceedings,
he has written two books and edited 11. Other projects Graesser and his colleagues
have developed include AutoTutor-lite, MetaTutor, GuruTutor, DeepTutor, HURA Advisor,
SEEK Web Tutor, Operation ARIES!, iSTART, Writing-Pal, AutoCommunicator, Point & Query,
Question Understanding Aid (QUAID), QUEST and Coh-Metrix.
The new award was established as part of the University’s Centennial fundraising campaign
in order to recognize the vital role and impact of research at the University.