REAP Study on Word Sense Disambiguation (Summer 2007)

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REAP Study on Word Sense Disambiguation (Summer 2007)

Logistical Information

Contributors Maxine Eskenazi, Alan Juffs, Anagha Kulkarni, Jamie Callan, Michael Heilman
Study Start Date May, 2007
Study End Date July, 2007
Learnlab Courses English Language Institute Reading 4&5 (ESL LearnLab)
Number of Students ~45
Total Participant Hours (est.) ~250
Data in Datashop no


In previous REAP studies, there has been no control over the sense of the word being taught and then tested to students. Although many words can convey only a single meaning, for many other words that is not the case and such words are termed as ambiguous words. It is important for REAP, to operate at the level of the word-meaning pairs being learned and not just the words being learned, for several reasons. The most important reason is to be able to assess learning of the particular meanings of a word that the student was exposed to. The second reason is to personalize and adapt the tutoring material in order to expose the student to all or a particular set of meanings of a word. These observations motivate the study of word meaning/sense disambiguation (WSD) for supporting vocabulary learning in a tutoring system.

Ambiguous words can be categorized as polysemes or homonyms. Polysemes are words that can convey multiple related meanings (e.g., "branch"), whereas, homonyms are words that can convey multiple distinct meanings (e.g., "bark"). In this study we concentrate on homonyms for two reasons. First, distinguishing between related senses of a word is a highly subjective task. It had been shown that the agreement between human annotators is very low on this task. Second, we believe that ESL students can transfer their knowledge about one sense of a word to another related sense of the word without much difficulty, especially in a context-based learning setup. However, we hypothesize that learners are not able to do so for homonyms, and thus assistance should improve learning.

Thus, this user study will test if automatic disambiguation of homonyms can have a positive effect on ESL vocabulary learning.


Research question

Does automatically matching the sense of vocabulary words to the target sense chosen by teachers improve learning?

Dependent variables

Independent variables


For certain polysemous words with distinct senses (e.g., "prime"), matching of training materials to target senses will improve robust learning measures.




Annotated bibliography

Kulkarni, A., Heilman, M., Eskenazi, M., and Callan, J. (2008). Word Sense Disambiguation for Vocabulary Learning. Ninth International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems.