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Machine-Guided Learning Matches Teachers In Study 76

New submitter dougled writes "A study at six universities found that students taught statistics mainly through software learned as much as peers taught primarily by humans. And the robots got the job done more quickly. '... our results indicate that hybrid-format students took about one-quarter less time to achieve essentially the same learning outcomes as traditional-format students.' They add, 'There is every reason to expect these systems to improve over time, perhaps dramatically, and thus it is not foolish to believe that learning outcomes will also improve.'"
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Machine-Guided Learning Matches Teachers In Study

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  • Read the PDF (Score:5, Interesting)

    by solarissmoke ( 2470320 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2012 @12:50AM (#40083635)

    They actually make some pragmatic conclusions in the report itself, and don't claim that machine-guided learning is some sort of panacea:

    The findings in this study warn against “too much hype.” To the best of our knowledge, there is no compelling evidence that online learning systems available today—not even highly interactive systems, of which there are very few—can in fact deliver improved educational outcomes across the board, at scale, on campuses other than the one where the system was born, and on a sustainable basis.


    We do not mean to suggest—because we do not believe—that ILO systems are some kind of panacea for this country’s deep-seated educational problems, which are rooted in fiscal dilemmas and changing national priorities as well as historical practices. Many claims about “online learning” (especially about simpler variants in their present state of development) are likely to be exaggerated. But it is important not to go to the other extreme and accept equally unfounded assertions that adoption of online systems invariably leads to inferior learning outcomes and puts students at risk.

  • by ToddInSF ( 765534 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2012 @12:55AM (#40083667) Journal
    That measures success not by ability to think critically and solve problems, but instead by the ability to regurgitate garbage back to the robots.

    Which is all good and well, since that's mostly all that teachers have been doing anyway.

    Way to shoot for the bottom of the barrel and diminish any real improvement in education !
  • by williamhb ( 758070 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2012 @02:15AM (#40084047) Journal

    I can't believe how low the teaching level must've got if a machine receives better outcomes than a teacher. Or how low the assessment of learning...

    Gosh, from the Fermi's [] way of teaching to this? In a space of... what??... last 20-30 years?

    Four things to say on this one -

    1. It looks like essentially the same result that's been repeated over and over again since the 1990s. Technology-enhanced learning papers from a host of universities have been occasionally reporting gains of up to about 1.1 standard deviation over classroom teaching alonefor a couple of decades.

    2. Beating university lectures is an extraordinarily low bar. We've known since the 1980s that non-interactive teaching, as typically happens in lectures and used to happen in high school classrooms too, is rubbish. See Bloom's "Two Sigma Problem" paper for extensive details (from high school classroom studies), and how simple things like "setting homework" can give a gain (actually marking the homework gives another gain; teaching students where they went wrong in the homework yet another gain! Wow, who'd have thunk it! What a surprise that a computer doing some of those things that we found 30 years ago provided a gain ... provide a gain over doing nothing). There is a more difficult challenge of matching human tutoring -- the intensive small group teaching by experts that routinely beats classroom teaching by two standard deviations but is much more expensive to do.

    3. Unfortunately for the field, a lot of mixed-mode experiments are flawed because the groups can't practically be isolated properly, and there's usually very little way of knowing how much of the learning is due to what part of the technology. It varies from case to case, but one of the common problems (from an experimental, not a learning, point of view) is that students are pretty much required to subvert your system -- no student is ever told "you mustn't find some other way of learning this". So, even if some part of the teaching is crap, if the system has given the students a clearer indication of what's going to be on the test, students will find another way of learning how to answer the test (ask their friends in the other stream, read a worked answer to last year's exam, Google...). That means there's often a hidden variable of whether setting computer practice tests is making the students better at the guessing game of knowing what's going to be on the real test. In some ways that'd actually be fine (yay, our students are doing better), but not if it means they neglect any learning that isn't on the computerised test (Joe can calculate eigenfactors til the cows come home; he just can't do anything else and has no clue when it's useful to do that)

    4. It's also important to note these are not machine-only learning methods. There's been plenty of lionisation of entirely online teaching, but the subtle truth is that universities have never thought it's just knowing the material that matters. Which is why they don't mind giving away all the material for free. After all, you've been able to go to the library and get the material for free for a few centuries now, but not that many people choose the Good Will Hunting route for their education. It turns out there's value to the soft skills you develop from being stuck in with a bunch of bright kids and (hopefully) bright faculty and put through the academic rigmarole, and to the credibility of having come out successfully at the other end. Or if you want to be really cynical about it, it turns out that employers also value some of the less glorious things that universities teach you:
    * Being able to navigate ridiculously over-complex bureaucracies and still get things done
    * Being able to learn what you need and accomplish what you've been required to do even when faced with setbacks such as the unintelligible academic gibbering away at the front of the class being actually pretty useless at teaching
    * Being able to manage your workload even when every damn subject lands a 40-page assignment on your plate in the same week of semester

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2012 @10:14AM (#40087303) Homepage

    By offloading the rote and basic informational dispersal to the students, that would hopefully free up the teacher to focus on walking through real demonstrations and examples, interacting with students, and helping out with some of the difficult-to-understand areas, instead of spending most of their time doing the same lecture-style material over and over.

    In the subject I teach (physics), what you're describing is standard modern pedagogy. What I mean by the word "standard" is that anybody who pays attention to the published empirical evidence knows that this is what you have to do in order to get decent results. It's not really new. A lot of the relevant work was done by Richard Hake (see this paper []) in the early 90's, and it was popularized by Eric Mazur in his 1996 book Peer Instruction. What Hake and his colllaborators have shown is that in traditional lecture-style courses, the amount of conceptual understanding that students gain (compared to what they had entering the course) is always extremely small, and there are no exceptions to this rule. The findings apply even to lecturers who have won awards, get wonderful student evaluations, etc. Techniques like the ones you're describing have been shown to do significantly better.

    The problem is simply that most teachers don't pay attention to the empirical evidence -- which is pretty pathetic for someone teaching a subject like physics, which is supposed to be an empirical science. Rather than doing what works according to the evidence, they do what their own professors did when they were undergraduates.

    A secondary problem is that students typically prefer traditional lecturing, because it doesn't make as many demands on them. They come to class without reading the book, sit passively in their seats, doodle in their notebooks, and think about sex.

"Everyone's head is a cheap movie show." -- Jeff G. Bone