News, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE)

Education Newsletter March 2005

NZ Educated Students Rise to the Top of Global Career Ladder
NZ Student Achievements Among the Best in the World
Use Latest Technology to Study Forest Regeneration
Nursing Degree
a First
NZ Reaching for the Stars in International Telescope Projects
New Zealand Trains - and Welcomes - Top Scholars
International Students Welcomed the Kiwi Way
New Zealand Scientist Wins World's Top Dairy Honour
Students Tutored by Female Robot Called Maria
New Zealand Educated
Education NZ
Industry NZ Educated
New Zealand

March 2005, Issue 2

Welcome to Issue Two of Brain Wave, a new quarterly newsletter produced by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to keep international education staff, allies and colleagues overseas informed of some of the latest and brightest news from New Zealand's education sector.

We hope this newsletter gives you useful examples to help you encourage international students to become "New Zealand Educated". Meanwhile, a significant new international marketing tool has also been launched - Replacing, the website features updated profiles of over 250 New Zealand institutions, news stories and alumni profiles, and will soon have more than 30 local language sub-sites for each of our key education markets. Students will be able to find out more about the benefits of becoming New Zealand Educated with ease. For brand licensees, the website also has an industry-only section where branding tools can be downloaded for New Zealand promotions.

We hope you enjoy this issue. Please send feedback and any future story ideas to

Students Tutored by Female Robot Called Maria
Shahin Maghsoudi (left) and Dr Tiru Arthanari with Maria (centre).

Statistics students at The University of Auckland are being tutored by a well spoken, blonde female tutor with a vocabulary of 203,000 words and who can recall hundreds of thousands of logic and grammar rules - but she's tutoring from behind a computer screen.

Maria, an assistant teacher in the statistics department, is a robot, or artificial intelligence (AI) entity, created over two years of intense work and study by Shahin Maghsoudi, a PhD student and member of the AI Group in the Faculty of Science.

As part of his Masters degree in Computer Science, Shahin embarked on a project to create virtual robots which could be used as teaching assistants, helpdesk operators and web-based marketing assistants. He has already created eight such robots. Of these, Maria is live on the internet, awaiting a patent, and being trialed on a test group of students.

Maria was created through the joint efforts of Shahin and Dr Tiru Arthanari from the University's School of Business. Dr Arthanari teaches inferential statistical methods as part of a research methods paper. His goal in collaborating with Shahin was to create an electronic "assistant" who would be available 24 hours-a-day and seven days-a-week to answer multiple student questions simultaneously as if they were having one-to-one conversations. Dr Arthanari built a special database to fuel Maria, part of which is dedicated to current student profiles. It can be populated either using a "conversation" mode - where students can actually communicate with Maria via the keyboard, or by the student filling in a form when first interacting with the system.

"What we are really doing is creating an illusion. The more care we take about the choice of words, the more effective the interaction will be. A student can easily be put off by abruptness so we needed to create an engaging robot with a polite manner," Dr Arthanari says.

Shahin is a computer engineer from Iran who migrated to New Zealand in 1990. His next project, as part of his PhD studies in the Computer Sciences Department, is to look at commonsense reasoning and ways of "teaching" the robots to make commonsense judgements.

Shahin has already begun collaborating with the Electrical Engineering Department at The University of Arizona to create a virtual teacher of electrical engineering concepts.

To talk with Maria or any of the other robots visit see the University of Auckland's original press release see here.

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