CSC News

May 10, 2017

Lester Wins 2017 IFAAMAS Influential Paper Award

IFAAMAS (the International Foundation for Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems) has selected an article co-authored by Dr. James Lester of NC State University (pictured at right), Dr. Lewis Johnson of Alelo, and the late Dr. Jeff Rickel of the University of Southern California as a recipient of the 2017 Influential Paper Award. The article, entitled “Animated pedagogical agents: Face-to-face interaction in interactive learning environments”, laid the groundwork for a wide range of educational products incorporating animated agent technology.
This award recognizes publications that have made an influential and long-lasting contribution to the field. Candidate award publications must have been published at least a decade prior to the year of award, and the judging panel seeks nominations each year from the community. The award was formally presented at this year’s AAMAS (Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems) conference in São Paulo, Brazil.
The article introduced and surveyed a new paradigm for interactive learning environments: animated pedagogical agents. The article argued for combining animated interface agent technologies with intelligent learning environments, yielding intelligent systems that can interact with learners in natural, human-like ways to achieve better learning outcomes. The concept has become an essential element of engaging, effective learning experiences. For example, the first Marine battalion that returned from Iraq without any combat fatalities learned Arabic language and culture in an immersive Alelo game that was populated with pedagogical agents.
Dr. Lester, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Center for Educational Informatics at NC State, said: “We deeply appreciate IFAAMAS’ recognition of this research. Since the article’s publication almost two decades ago, it has been enormously gratifying to see pedagogical agents evolve into a mature technology that is finding broad application in education and training.”
Dr. Johnson, Alelo’s CEO, added: “We are humbled and grateful to receive this prestigious award. Some of the ideas in the paper have become well established, especially in game-based learning environments. Others are only now being realized, thanks to advances in immersive interfaces that enable rich face-to-face interaction between learners and technology.”
The article appeared in the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, and is one of the most frequently cited papers in that journal. Prof. Judy Kay, co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal, said, “This work, by pioneers and leaders of our field, has provided the foundation for a whole new way to frame innovative educational software.”
The article was one of two articles recognized by IFAAMAS in 2017. The other one was a 1994 SIGGRAPH paper by Prof. Justine Cassell of Carnegie Mellon University and colleagues, entitled “Animated conversation: Rule-based generation of facial expression, gesture & spoken intonation for multiple conversational agents.”
The full citation of the prize-winning paper is: Johnson, W. L., Rickel, J. W., & Lester, J. C. (2000). Animated pedagogical agents: Face-to-face interaction in interactive learning environments. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 11(1), 47-78.
The Center for Educational Informatics at North Carolina State University designs, develops, and investigates next-generation learning technologies. CEI creates adaptive learning technologies for classrooms, homes, museums, clinics, and defense training needs. CEI projects span a wide spectrum of advanced learning technology research and development. They range from foundational research on technology-enabled learning to creating innovative personalized learning technologies and investigating the impact of technology-rich learning at scale. (
Alelo creates learning solutions that help people acquire new skills and apply them when it counts, changing the way people communicate. The company has been delivering learning solutions based on virtual role-play simulations since 2003 when it spun out as a DARPA-funded research project from the University of Southern California. The U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program funded Alelo to develop Web-based learning technology for cultural awareness that was distinguished as a success story. Alelo’s new Enskill platform is being used by learners around the world to develop better communication skills. (

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