How can the interaction design of an algebra tutor help engage middle school students?

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Lynnette is an online tutoring software created at CMU’s Human Computer Interaction Institute which middle school students use to solve simple algebraic equations. I was tasked with redesigning the interface with special attention towards making the software more engaging. I worked under the direction of Vincent Aleven and Jonathan Sewall. 

Concept Details

User Flow Demo

A high priority was designing not only engaging, but informative interactions which helped demonstrate to students how Lynnette worked. Providing immediate logical feedback for every student input was key, as research showed that students cared about the tutor’s assessment of their learning and that it motivated them to learn.

Skill Mastery 

A major component of engagement is to set concrete, short term goals to motivate students. I wanted to design a more elaborate interaction for the mastery of a skill as a greater reward for students.

Level Mastery

A level is completed by mastering every skill, rewarding the student with a badge, in this case, a planet. The same rationale for creating a significant interaction behind the mastery of a skill applies even more for the mastery of a level.


Hints are a necessary part of online tutors to help nudge students through a problem. A priority with hints was to point them in-between the previous and current step, which made for an interesting visual real estate challenge.



More Interactions

While exploring different animations for visually demonstrating how Lynnette works through user interactions, I explored varying levels of explanation fidelity. Creating "juicy interactions" was always a priority to hopefully increase engagement.



I used my sketches to quickly test out different potential animations as well as map out how interactions and feedback would relate to each other.


Students' Understanding of their Student Model

Yanjin Long and Vincent Aleven

  •  "We found that: 

    • students pay close attention to the OLM and report that seeing it change encourages them to learn

    • there is a significant discrepancy between the students’ self-assessment and the system’s assessment

    • students generally rely on the OLM to make judgments of their learning progress without much active reflection"

Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and


American Psychology Association

  • Principle 10: "Students persist in the face of challenging tasks and process information more deeply when they adopt mastery goals rather than performance goals."

  • Principle 12: "Setting goals that are short term (proximal), specific, and moderately challenging enhances motivation more than establishing goals that are long term (distal), general, and overly challenging.”

Active Learners: Redesigning an Intelligent Tutoring System

to Support Self-Regulated Learning

Yanjin Long and Vincent Aleven

  • “self-assessment support facilitates students’ learning processes, and enhances their learning outcomes significantly”

  • “students inspected the OLM frequently to see their progress, but thought that the design of the OLM was too simple to convey much progress information”