Professor studies cancer education, decision making
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 23:10
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as charity events and awareness drives gain momentum across the country, one professor at Miami University has stepped in to lend an academic hand to the question of genetic breast cancer testing. Psychology professor Chris Wolfe is currently conducting a research project with a grant from the American Cancer Society to develop a technology that will help women understand the benefits and drawbacks of genetic breast cancer testing.
Wolfe is utilizing the program AutoTutor-Lite, which is an intelligent tutoring system that interacts with people in natural language.
According to senior Mandy Withrow, a member of Wolfe’s research team, the AutorTutor program will help women make more educated choices.
“It’s an alternative to having women just go online and stare at a website,” Withrow said. “Especially for something as sensitive as breast cancer, having something that women can interact with can be really helpful.”
The technologies for AutoTutor have been developed within the past ten years and Wolfe’s project will be the first of its kind in the health care field.
“Some of these technologies are getting to the point where you really can have a conversation with them,” Wolfe said. “I really think that we can use so much of it to help people learn in these different settings.”
Interaction between the program and the subject is key.
The AutoTutor presents information about genetic breast cancer testing in a process similar to a Power Point Presentation. The program asks the subject questions that they must answer before they can move on to new information.
According to Wolfe, this process ensures the subject learns the material fully.
The program also connects to a database containing definitions and explanations of breast cancer terms so a subject can ask the AutoTutor questions and receive answers in natural language.
Early test results have shown that people who use this program almost always score higher on examinations related to genetic breast cancer testing than those who do not use the program, and who read the information online because these people are less actively engaged.
The research team at Miami is composed of four graduate students and six undergraduates.
According to Wolfe, these students have a very hands-on position with the research. Some of the undergraduates have even created modules for the program.
Senior Isabella Damas Vannucchi said working on a research team has given her real-world experience and taught her how to apply what she learned in the classroom.
Miami’s team is collaborating with a team at Cornell University led by Valerie Reyna and is using the AutoTutor-Lite program developed by Xiangen Hu at the University of Memphis.
The three schools connect bi-weekly through Skype to exchange results and discuss possible improvements, Wolfe said.
Wolfe said he feels passionately about his work and he hopes others will expand upon his research in the future. He said psychologists can make important contributions to the medical field.
“What’s really intriguing to me is that when you go to the medical area where the stakes are so high people still make the same kind of errors that our college sophomores make in our lab experiments,” Wolfe said. “That says to me that psychologists have something to contribute here, we can help people sort [mental processes] out and make better decisions.”