CHAPEL HILL – UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State are launching an initiative aiming to utilize artificial intelligence as an educational tool with $20 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

The Artificial Intelligence Institute for Engaged Learning was announced Thursday.

The grant covers five years.

Other partners include Indiana University and Vanderbilt University as well as Digital Promise, a non-profit.

Here’s how UNC says the institute will work:

“The new institute will create a virtual environment with AI characters and analytical tools for educators to help foster a creative and communicative learning environment for students. Researchers will design a story-based environment where students can interact with engaging AI characters that communicate with speech, facial expression, posture and more. The analytical tools will allow educators to customize scenarios as needed, making a more tailored approach to individual students and their learning style and capability. All these educational AI tools will be informed by ethical considerations of fairness, accountability, transparency, trust and privacy.”

At NCSU, work has been underway for some time to prepare for the institute’s creation and launch.

“We have been designing, developing and implementing AI technologies for education for many years,” says James Lester, principal investigator of the new institute and Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science at NC State. “The new NSF AI Institute for Engaged Learning will leverage our work, and that of our collaborators, to develop new tools that radically improve human learning and education.”

UNC, meanwhile, said researchers “will develop advanced educational and analytical AI tools to move the work from iteration to real-world application.”

Terry Magnuson , UNC-Chapel Hill’s Vice Chancellor of Research, explained  researchers “are leading the foundational artificial intelligence work for this NSF-AI institute, which will define and drive the strong impact and usefulness of the diverse educational AI tools.”