Washington, Mar 9 : Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are developing novel interactive computerized tutors that track a student's emotional and motivational state of mind and provides him information designed to appeal to his intellectual curiosity at that point.
This new technique, being developed by Beverly Woolf, a research professor of computer science, makes use of special sensors to help make the computer tutor respond when students become angry, frustrated or bored, based on body language, attention and other indicators. Woolf said that the introduction of the emotion sensors helps the scientists respond to how people actually learn.
"Emotion and cognitive functions are strongly correlated. So if you improve the social intelligence of the computer, students respond the way they would to another person. Sensors allow the computer to identify students who pay attention and those too tired or bored to learn. Using these cues, the computer provides individualized instruction," she said.
According to her, these novel tutors will be able to teach geometry and algebra to high school students, but can be adapted to any subject. She also said that the non-invasive sensors could mimic what most efficient human teachers do in the classroom for keeping their students involved. "Master teachers devote as much time working on a student's motivation as they do on straight teaching. They understand that students who feel anxious or depressed don't assimilate information properly," she said.
The sensors include a camera that views facial expressions. Woolf said that certain looks on a student's face or how they tilt or hold their head strongly indicate their level of interest in what they are doing. There is also a posture-sensing device in the seat of a chair to measure movement. This measures the amount of fidgeting, or stillness, other indicators of interest and concentration on the task.
A pressure-sensitive computer mouse is also present to tell how hard the user is pushing down. Woolf said that according to a previous research, users who find an online task frustrating often apply more pressure to the mouse than those who do not find the same task frustrating.
Also, a wireless skin conductance wristband worn by the student indicates how activated the person is. She said that a certain amount of arousal is a motivator toward learning and tends to accompany significant, new, or attention-getting events.
Woolf said that the combination of the emotion sensors and mathematical subject matter are presented to the students during a period of up to two hours. In each session, the computer analyzes the information it gets from the sensors and adjusts how it presents the information.
At times, that can lead to halting the program and offering the student an alternative activity to reignite interest. And it could also involve having the computer go back and revisit material that the student has failed to master.
The sensors also detect when students try to "game the program" by randomly choosing answers or hurrying through the problems. In that case, the computer tutor responds, in a friendly manner, and asks them to slow down or read more carefully.