ASK Systems: An Approach to the Realization of Story-Based Teachers

William Ferguson, Ray Bareiss, Lawrence Birnbaum, Richard Osgood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Telling stories is an effective way to teach aspects of nearly every task and domain. However, to be effectively remembered, a story must be told in a context that enables the hearer to index it functionally in memory. This occurs naturally when stories are told to students while they are attempting to perform the task being taught. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to engage students in a task while teaching it, so some other context must be found that facilitates appropriate indexing. We argue that this context occurs naturally in a teaching dialog, called an Aesopic dialog, in which the student asks questions and the expert answers with stories. In this dialog, the coherence of the conversation itself provides a context that enables the stories to be usefully incorporated into the student's memory. The widespread application of teaching through Aesopic dialogs requires overcoming the hurdle that experts are scarce and access to them is limited. Our solution to this problem is to broaden access to expert stories through the development of hypermedia systems designed to provide an interaction that emulates, as much as possible, the cognitively relevant aspects of an Aesopic dialog with an expert. We have constructed a number of such story-based teachers, called ASK systems, in domains as diverse as trust bank consulting, Presidential decision-making, and the determinants of a nation's industrial success in global markets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-134
JournalThe Journal of the Learning Sciences
StatePublished - 1992


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