The Joking Computer
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The online version of the Joking Computer is now available.

Helen Pain

I have always liked both Arts and Science, and so after school (and working with children with learning difficulties for a year) I choose to study Psychology in Cardiff. I discovered that others in Cardiff had used computers as a tool to run scientific studies and also to help them understand better how the mind worked. This was quite exciting, and led to me making a very simple computer model of human motivation. I was deciding what to do next (and considering becoming an Educational Psychologist),  when I read about research at the University of Edinburgh that combined computers, education and psychology - all my favourite interests - in the Artificial Intelligence department - so made the trip north to do a PhD. I looked at how children with difficulties in spelling could be helped (and how the problems they had could be better understood) using computers. My interest in how to improve communication and learning in children, through using more intelligent computer tools, have continued since then.

           Helen Pain

Carlton hill
photo from

I have worked in Edinburgh as a student, a researcher and a lecturer (teaching many first year, final honours and postgraduate sudents). I have also had the chance to visit and work with researchers all over the world - through conferences and research visits to places such as Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Sydney, Mexico and less visited places such as Saskatoon!

My research has spanned a number of areas related to supporting learning and communication, with children and adults, with and without special needs. When a learner is tutored by a human teacher, the teacher will try and match what they say to the particular learner and their needs - giving them specific feedback on problems they have and mistakes they make, and trying to motivate them. By studying how human teachers do this, we can also improve how computers can help children and adults learn. I have collaborated with a number of teachers and other researchers on helping improve learning through using computers. 

We have also tried to improve communication more generally - in particular for those with special needs - using more intelligent computer interfaces, and through asking those using the computers to tell us more about what they need to help them. We think it is very important that those using computers to learn or communicate should be involved in how tools to help with this are designed. Part of this research was the work on the STANDUP project. We involved both children and those who worked with them (such as teachers, parents and speech and language therapists) in the design process, to make sure that what we built was what they wanted.  By helping non-speaking children to build their own jokes we were hoping to improve their communication and self confidence - we now have the tools to help them make jokes, but still have to see whether this helps them....

Informatics Forum
© Paul Dodds

© Trevor Pritchard

More recently we have been looking at whether we can help improve social communication in young children, and in particular with children on the autistic spectrum. In the ECHOES project we are developing a multi-media environment that children can play in and interact with various characters and objects, such as playing in a garden with another (virtual) child. Who knows - we may end up putting jokes in this also.....

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