Data Science for Social Good project aims to combine AI and history with ‘revolutionary’ role-playing experience

Rising Vanderbilt University junior, Logan A’Hearn, knew he would be learning about the French Revolution when he registered for Dr. Holly Tucker’s EUS 2230W class, but he didn’t know he’d be living it and certainly didn’t know he’d spend his summer working to bring it to life with artificial intelligence.

Dr. Holly Tucker, the Mellon Foundation Chair in the Humanities and Professor of French, teaches the class, titled European History and Culture Through Immersive Gaming – French Revolution, to undergraduates each year. The class throws out the textbook, allowing students to learn history by living it through an elaborate role-playing game. The pedagogy, called Reacting to the Past, immerses students in historical roles to facilitate experiential learning.

Most of the student communication in the class, such as writing letters to other historical figures and forming alliances, happens through Slack. More than 40,000 messages are sent each semester in the class’ Slack channel. Dr. Tucker has saved the data over the years, and is interested in the possibility of leveraging the data to make the most of the recent advancements in AI and data analysis techniques to enhance the learning experience of her students.

Dr. Tucker reached out to the Data Science Institute in the spring 2023 semester about the project, and it soon became one of our Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) projects for the summer of 2023. She then sent out the call to her “revolutionaries” who previously took the class. Logan A’Hearn, a data science minor, jumped at the opportunity. .

“[The project] is right up my alley. I’m interested in is learning how to use AI and data science for good — using it in an ethical way as a tool rather than something to fear,” said Logan, who is an HOD and Philosophy double major.

The project involves analyzing the extensive dataset of student interactions on the Slack platform. Through semantic analysis, the team aims to examine the character interactions, the messages exchanged, and their potential influence on game outcomes. By identifying patterns and correlations, the analysis can provide valuable insights into the dynamics of the game and how character interactions shape its course.

Additionally, the team plans to create interactive visualizations using historical French Revolution data. Their objective is to develop a web map that visualizes idea networks formed by different characters and explores geopolitical data from the era. This interactive map will serve as an engaging tool for students to deepen their understanding of the historical context and the relationships between various entities involved.

Another intriguing aspect of the project is the integration of AI into the letter-writing component of the game. Currently, student letters are reviewed by course assistants, who determine outcomes through die rolls. However, by leveraging AI, the team aims to enable the system to adopt the persona of historical figures and generate responses to student letters. This feature adds an interactive and dynamic element to the game, enhancing student engagement and immersiveness.

It is important to note that while AI is being explored as a tool in the Revolutions class, Professor Tucker emphasizes that the primary goal is not to transform the course into an AI-centric experience. The focus remains on using AI ethically and responsibly, ensuring that it serves as a valuable resource for students’ learning without overshadowing the educational objectives.

As the project progresses, Logan and the team will collaborate with the Data Science Institute and other project team members to refine their ideas and explore new avenues. This project represents an exciting opportunity to explore the integration of AI and data science in a classroom setting. By analyzing student interactions, creating visualizations, and incorporating AI in character responses, the project aims to enhance the Revolutions game and provide students with an immersive and educational experience.