Studying Alignment in a Collaborative Learning Activity via Automatic Methods: The Link Between What We Say and Do




alignment, collaborative learning, educational dialogue, spontaneous speech


A dialogue is successful when there is alignment between the speakers, at different linguistic levels. In this work, we consider the dialogue occurring between interlocutors engaged in a collaborative learning task, where they are evaluated on how well they performed and how much they learnt. Our main contribution is to propose new automatic measures to study alignment; focusing on lexical alignment, and a new alignment context that we introduce termed as behavioural alignment (when an instruction given by one interlocutor was followed with concrete actions in a physical environment by another). Thus we propose methodologies to create a link between what was said, and what was done as a consequence. To do so, we focus on expressions related to the task in the situated activity. These expressions are minimally required by the interlocutors to make progress in the task. We then observe how these local alignment contexts build to dialogue level phenomena; success in the task. What distinguishes our approach from other works, is the treatment of alignment as a procedure that occurs in stages. Since we utilise a dataset of spontaneous speech dialogues elicited from children, a second contribution of our work is to study how spontaneous speech phenomena (such as when interlocutors say "uh", "oh" ...) are used in the process of alignment. Lastly, we make public the dataset to study alignment in educational dialogues. Our results show that all teams lexically and behaviourally align to some degree regardless of their performance and learning, and our measures capture that teams that did not succeed in the task were simply slower to collaborate. Thus we find that teams that performed better, were faster to align. Furthermore, our methodology captures a productive, collaborative period that includes the time where the interlocutors came up with their best solutions. We also find that well-performing teams verbalise the marker "oh" more when they are behaviourally aligned, compared to other times in the dialogue; showing that this marker is an important cue in alignment. To the best of our knowledge, we are the first to study the role of "oh" as an information management marker in a behavioural context (i.e. in connection to actions taken in a physical environment), compared to only a verbal one. Our measures contribute to the research in the field of educational dialogue and the intersection between dialogue and collaborative learning research.