University of South Florida


Sanghoon Park, winner of the 2023 Innovation In Online Design and Teaching Award, shows off his online course design and unique engagement tactics. | Video by: USF Innovative Education

Associate professor develops motivational chatbot and digital Candyland-like maze to ensure student success

By: Cassidy Delamarter, University Communications and Marketing

A faculty member in USF’s College of Education is putting a video game twist on his course designed to provide students with more expertise in trending educational technologies, such as augmented reality. Associate Professor Sanghoon Park’s course uses a superhero character to guide students through a Candyland-like maze and checks in with them throughout their journey via a new chatbot he developed named RAMI, which stands for Regulatory Advisor for Motivation Inhibition.

Park just wrapped up his first semester using RAMI, which appears every time a student logs into the course and asks the student about how they’re feeling and if they are facing any challenges. The chatbot, funded by the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, was developed with help from a team of students and Reginald Lucien, assistant dean at the Judy Genshaft Honors College. It assists students by providing motivational tips and strategies. Park uses that information to help guide his teaching and class support.

RAMI chatbot

The RAMI chatbot inside Park's course

“Motivation plays a critical role in students’ persistence, retention, achievement and satisfaction,” Park said. “I wanted to create something that could help students maintain their motivation while enrolled in multiple online courses.”

For more than two decades, Park has dedicated his research to studying motivational design, motivational regulation and online learning experience analysis – all fundamentals he now shares in his course where he teaches students about the current trends in instructional technology. Many of his students, future teachers and instructional designers like himself are tasked with learning and developing creative ways to empower and prepare individuals in a rapidly evolving world where digital learning is essential. 

“My course begins with this big question: Do you want to be an instructional technology hero?” Park said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, instructional designers stepped up to the challenge of transforming to virtual learning environments and coming up with environments with innovative solutions for teachers and students alike.”

Park’s utilization of technology to engage his own students online has been so extraordinary, he was recently awarded the USF Innovation in Online Design and Teaching Award by Innovative Education, which created an in-depth video about his course that will soon be featured on the Florida Board of Governor’s website.

“Sang’s exceptional online teaching practices and significant contributions to the design, development and delivery of student-centered online teaching and learning have been outstanding,” said Christine Brown, associate vice president of Innovative Education. “He truly demonstrates the impact of well-designed, high-quality digital course materials and has been able to prove sustained excellence and innovation in online teaching practices that support student engagement, student learning gains and student satisfaction.”

“With highly engaged course design, students often experience high self-efficacy,” Park said. “As a result, more than 90% of students complete the course with a grade of ‘A’ every semester. I take great pride in my teaching strategies and activities, and I enjoy supporting online students to find their own way in their dream careers.”

Park was born in South Korea where he served in the military and began his undergraduate career. His passion for motivational design started when he was a student and took his first online course. With a new curiosity to learn about technology and the ways it might impact the future of education, Park decided to apply to a university in the United States.

“My mother did not want me to study more, she wanted me to become a teacher in South Korea, get married and just live happily ever after,” Park said. 

He made his mother a deal: He would apply to one university and if he was accepted, he would go. “Luckily for me and unfortunately for my mother, I got an acceptance letter!”

Metaverse avatar

Park's avatar inside the International Symposium on Education metaverse

Park’s international connections continued over the years. He and his doctoral students recently attended an international conference in the metaverse – a virtual world – with South Korean, Chinese and Japanese universities. There, he presented on how chatbots, such as RAMI, can be used as a learning companion, especially for online courses. 

Interdisciplinary education doctoral student Stephen Schilling took Park’s course and says he sees a lot of potential in a chatbot like RAMI. As a virtual social studies instructor, Schilling feels the implementation of chatbots could be a helping hand. 

“I feel like many conversations I have with students can be first confronted with this type of product,” Schilling said. “As a teacher who often has motivational discussions with students, this could help me further target my phone calls and what needs to be addressed in those calls.”

Now that his course has concluded, Park is evaluating RAMI and is working to develop a revised version based on feedback from students. He hopes to eventually invite colleagues across the university to incorporate the chatbot into their own courses. 

In addition to Lucien, Park’s research team includes Ariadne Herrera, Emily Fendrick, Alvaro Lazaro, Nischal Olety and Sydney Driscoll.

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