Instructor-aided asynchronous question answering system for online education and distance learning


  • Dunwei Wen Athabasca University
  • John Cuzzola Athabasca University
  • Lorna Brown Athabasca University
  • Dr. Kinshuk Athabasca University



automated question answering, natural language processing, information retrieval, LMS, distance education, online learning


Question answering systems have frequently been explored for educational use. However, their value was somewhat limited due to the quality of the answers returned to the student. Recent question answering (QA) research has started to incorporate deep natural language processing (NLP) in order to improve these answers. However, current NLP technology involves intensive computing and thus it is hard to meet the real-time demand of traditional search. This paper introduces a question answering (QA) system particularly suited for delayed-answered questions that are typical in certain asynchronous online and distance learning settings. We exploit the communication delay between student and instructor and propose a solution that integrates into an organization’s existing learning management system. We present how our system fits into an online and distance learning situation and how it can better assist supporting students. The prototype system and its running results show the perspective and potential of this research.

Author Biography

Dunwei Wen, Athabasca University

Dr. Dunwei Wen is an Associate Professor in the School of Computing and Information Systems at Athabasca University (AU), Alberta, Canada. He earned his PhD in pattern recognition and intelligent systems from Central South University, and MSc from Tianjin University and BEng from Hunan University. He was a visiting scholar in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta, from 2003 to 2004, and a faculty at Central South University from 1988 to 2007, where he became Lecture, Associate Professor, and Full Professor in 1991, 1997 and 2003 respectively. His research interests include artificial intelligence, natural language processing, machine learning and inference, data mining, text analysis, intelligent agents and their application in industrial and educational information systems.  He has published more than fifty journal and conference papers, supervised thirty graduate students and research assistants, and taken part in eighteen research and development projects. He is a Member of IEEE, ACM, and AAAI.



How to Cite

Wen, D., Cuzzola, J., Brown, L., & Kinshuk, D. (2012). Instructor-aided asynchronous question answering system for online education and distance learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(5), 102–125.