The Sask Mentor Project

Socratic Tutoring Software for Fostering Reflective Thought in a Learning Environment

Baba Kofi Weusijana, Dr. Christopher K. Riesbeck, Dr. Joseph T. Walsh, Jr.
Learning Sciences, Computer Science & Biomedical Engineering

Northwestern University / VaNTH ERC,

Use Sask in your course! Contact Baba Kofi Weusijana at to arrange a demonstration.


Often a lesson requires learners to reflect on their learning task, to stop and think about what they are doing and why. One way to do this is to utilize the Socratic Method; ask students probing questions to get them to examine their own thinking and assist them in an inquiry process. Unfortunately, there are often not enough educators skilled in that sort of dialogue to help all the learners in a timely manner. Our solution is to provide educators with an inexpensive and relatively quick way to create Socratic software tutors to assist educators in ameliorating that insufficiency.

Sask is a system for educators to make web-based Socratic tutoring software, called Mentors, for their learners. With the Sask Designer web-based authoring tool, educators who have taught using the Socratic Method can make Mentors for individual lessons tailored to their learners. Sask is a domain-independent architecture for implementing Socratic dialogs to foster deeper learner's reflections on well-defined lessons or learning tasks.



Using the authoring tool called Sask Designer, educators can draw on their experience in teaching Socratically and create and link their utterances with possible learner responses. This specifies the behavior of a Sask Mentor, which learners interact with via the Web as if they were having a discussion with their educator. This allows educators to improve learning environments without spending undue time and money working with software and knowledge engineers to build a more dynamic tutoring system.

Sask Mentors provide an innovative interface that goes beyond multiple-choice selections to include blank fields. This allows educators to foster deeper reflection than mere choice prioritization strategies. Educators can also link Mentor dialogue to display any web content, including videos, simulations, etc. Typically this is used to display video or play audio of the educator speaking the Mentor's dialogue, thus making the learner's experience more like a real conversation with their human educator.

Currently Sask in written in Java and can be deployed on an Apache or Tomcat web server as a web application.



Sask Mentors cannot handle open-ended discussion, however they are designed to improve learning experiences where:

  • The possible responses students can make are predictable. Explaining the learning goal and telling your learners to only type in terms or phrases from the textbook or lectures can achieve this.

  • Learners commonly make mistakes, experience setbacks, or develop misconceptions during the learning task, particularly when they fail to think reflectively about their learning task.

  • There might be none, one, or many correct answers and one or more paths to them, such as a case-based discussion on ethics.

Sask Mentors can be used in conjunction with a learn-by-doing experience, or as a reflection exercise. Sask Mentors are intended to augment a learner's educational experience by providing more access and exposure to their educator's Socratic dialog.


A Sask Mentor tutor being used to learn about how to determine the quality of dialyzer (artificial kidney).



The Sask Designer authoring tool being used to create dialogue for a Mentor tutor.


This work was supported primarily by the Engineering Research Centers Program of the National Science Foundation under Award Number EEC-9876363.