About Keith

Keith Brawner currently works in the simulation industry for the DoD, before, during, and after getting a Masters in Intelligent Systems. Sadly, he is not yet a Doctor.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rant - AI in Education - Building Intelligent Tutors

I am currently reading Building Intelligent Interactive Tutors: Student-centered strategies for revolutionizing e-learning.  You can buy the book on Amazon here.  For, you can download it, say, for an ebook reader, here.

Super-awesome weekend.  We went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios to see movie-quality, real life, monsters that jump out at you in a number of haunted houses (8? 10?), combines with the great rides of a world-class theme park.  In addition to that splurge of entertainment, we went to La Nouba, and were thoroughly entertained by live performers for over an hour.  In a few hours, we will be attending a block party.  So, please forgive the late update.

Breaking points
     I've been reading Building Intelligent Interactive Tutors by Beverly Park Woolf, and one of the things that she speaks of often is the idea that each industry reaches a critical threshold on occasion.  For instance, the field of computer science benefits from object oriented programming/design.  The field of physics has made leaps and bounds based on the models that they can now create via computer simulation.  She argues that the field of education is now overdue for such a breakthrough for a few reasons.  In fact, just this month this subject was a featured article on the technology site Slashdot.  You can read more here.

Why now?

In the past field of education, learning has been studied, and segmented into a few categories:
  • one-on-one instruction versus group (one-on-one is significantly more effective)
  • inquiry learning versus lecture learning (inquiry is more effective)
  • Testing versus teaching (tests can make ability gaugeable, but the time is better spent teaching if you already know the ability level)
  • motivational learning versus subject learning (students learn better when motivated)
  • Mastery learning (building a subject from the ground up, and asking 'why?') outperforms other forms of learning.
Logically speaking, you want a one-on-one teacher that teaches via asking questions (or better yet, getting students to ask the right questions), without any tests, in a subject that the student is interested in.  I can see you rolling your eyes at this.  Despite knowing that these teaching methods are the most effective, they are also the most difficult to implement.  Having one first grade teacher per student is ludicrous, and attempting to get them to sit still long enough to actually ask questions about subject matter isn't exactly realistic.
Or is it?
There is an obvious exception to this, however, and my reader likely sees it coming.  Intelligent Tutoring Systems offer the real promise of optimal learning.  With each of these subject-area improvements, you can make leaps and bounds with performance.
  • ITS's can tutor one-on-one, and are best this way
  • ITS's can teach via inquiry learning, either by providing a large number of questions, or by grammar-parsing text-written (or spoken) response
  • An ITS has no real need to test.  When working a domain like mathematics, it can assign homework problems that are graded on-spot.
  • ITS's can gauge student involvement as well as or better than a live tutor, using sensors
  • ITS's can use Mastery Learning if constructed in the correct manner by an expert (say, a grade school teacher).

Why do you care?
There is a strong case to be made that the students of the future will be taught via a computer interface that is customized to their needs.  It will keep track of their learning on various subjects, get their interest and keep it, and get them to ask questions about the subject matter.  It is likely that it will be able to be distributed via Internet, and that a large portion of mankind will be bettered by it.  People in first world countries will be getting the same education that a significant portion of the planet is getting.
There are still some important problems to solve (for instance, all of the above), but it is likely to be only a matter of time before they can be taken care of.

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