Factors to promote healthy dialogue and behaviours in online school communities (DEBAQI)

Type: National Project Project

Duration: from 2020 Jun 01 to 2023 Jun 01

Financed by: FCT

Prime Contractor: COFAC - Cooperativa de Formação e Animação Cultural, C.R.L (Other)

The increasing possibility for people to connect to each other online is creating a hyper-connected information ecosystem. This hyper connectivity brings important opportunities for people to exchange knowledge. For example, by engaging in social dialogue, through which they can revise beliefs and misconceptions in light of sound arguments and evidence. The opposite is also true, and currently prevalent. Human vulnerabilities, from those determined at the neurological level to the socio-cultural, and technological, are being exploited in an unprecedented way. This has led to what is known as the post-truth era, a time in which people choose to believe alternative facts, even when presented with information that debunks that belief. As people become exposed to more and more information, the number of micro-level individual decisions they need to make on a daily basis increases, deliberation is replaced with fast, impression based choices. People often resort to following the crowd too. In this context, the individual choices we make concerning the engagement in more deliberative and healthy dialogue have potentially a massive impact in social collective dynamics. Therefore, one of the first places in which we should be encouraging, and engaging in healthy dialogue, is the school. Indeed, the United Nations agenda for 2030 sets a number of goals for sustainable development, of which a focus on education that improves on quality, inclusiveness, equality and lifelong learning is one of the top five goals set for Portugal. One resource that can be used to counteract the negative outcomes of collective behaviours online is data. We have massively growing amounts of data that can be used to understand the complexities of this new form of complex, hyper-connected information ecosystem. This research proposal is concerned with using data to better understand the underlying dynamics of social conversation online within school that is, secondary school students, and their teachers. This new understanding can be used in different ways, particularly in long term educational programs, to foster more empathetic, inclusive, civil and healthy dialogues online. We have partnered with the network of school libraries (RBE) and the directorate of education statistics (DGEEC) for this project. The RBE started collecting data on debates involving groups of about forty secondary school students across a growing number of schools. The RBE data collection project is set to expand significantly in the next years. Using this new data we propose to (1) convert student and teacher generated utterances to a representation that captures four important features with likely impact on conversation health: key phrases, sentiment, topic and arguments; (2) Working with conversations represented this way, we will use sophisticated data/network science algorithms to identify and fully characterize the key factors that drive different modular dynamic building blocks of online conversation; (3) the newly acquired knowledge will be encoded in a sophisticated AI- based system. This system will support the public administration in the ethical design of policies and programs that create novel, contextualized, learning scenarios for young people, as well as teachers to engage in dialogue. This is expected, for example, to activate meta-cognitive skills about the dialogue itself. Thinking about dialogue while engaging it it can lead to deep transformations in the currently prevalent model based on fast, impassion based interactions. Very recent advances in Natural Language Processing, Data Science and Artificial Intelligence create unprecedented conditions for interdisciplinary synergies that can be used to promote important social changes from the bottom up. Some of these can lead to data-driven, robust, trustable and context-adaptive solutions to pressing societal problems like e.g. the central topic of this research proposal. Indeed the scientific ideas informing the approach and innovations in our methodology rest on the meaningful integration of theories from different scientific fields. This project has a differentiated focus on the formative education of secondary school students, and on the empowerment of rich lifelong learning possibilities for teachers. In addition, this project considers the fact that decision makers in the public administration will have sudden access to a lot of domain knowledge, for this reason our proposal includes an AI-driven tutor based on an Open Learner Model that allows decision makers' learning in ways that can be tracked and explored meta cognitively in the open model of the user kept by the AI system. Finally, we are very committed to scientific communication and dissemination. We plan an online observatory, the production of art-science installations and the organization of a national day for healthy social conversation


  • COFAC - Cooperativa de Formação e Animação Cultural, C.R.L (Other)
  • Fundação Calouste Gulbekian (Other)
  • INESC-ID (Other)

Principal Investigators