Rochester Institute of Technology assistant professor of computer science Ifeoma Nwogu has earned a prestigious National Science Foundation award to use computers to better understand human behavior and social interaction.
Nwogu received an NSF Faculty Early Career Development award and grant for her five-year project.
She aims to study human behavior in a new way by using machine learning techniques to analyze and find patterns in the many signals that individuals display during social interactions. Her work will specifically look at groups working in science, technology, engineering and math, with the aim of supporting underrepresented groups in STEM.
Working with a team of student researchers, Nwogu will observe and collect data generated in small face-to-face group meetings. Some of the nonverbal communication data she will collect include galvanic skin response information, facial expressions, gestures, self-observed data and speech prosody — which includes intonation, tone, stress and rhythm of speech.
The sequence of data is essentially time series signals, and the real challenge is extracting meaningful statistics and analyzing patterns in that data, Nwogu explained. Using Bayesian trained neural networks, she plans to develop a computational framework for analyzing individuals’ behavior and interactions.
For example, Nwogu could use the models to predict if people in a group have rapport or not. Speech volume or certain facial expressions could be indicators used for making that prediction.
For the project, Nwogu is partnering with RIT’s Center for Advancing STEM Teaching, Learning and Evaluation, which is a network of faculty, projects and programs engaged in scholarship surrounding STEM education.
As part of outreach for the study, Nwogu has partnered with RIT’s African Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Mathematics and Science to teach a course at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Rwanda. She also plans to bring research students to Rwanda and continue the NSF project, observing if social interaction patterns change across different cultures.
The CAREER program is an NSF-wide activity that offers awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
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