15 February 2011

Computer Assisted Tutoring Especially Helpful for Maths?

A new Carnegie Mellon University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute study indicates that grammar school students who receive mathematics tutoring assistance from computer programs score higher in year-to-year achievement, than their untutored cohorts.
Year-end test scores of Massachusetts middle school students whose teachers used a Web-based tutoring platform called ASSISTments as a central part of their mathematics instruction were significantly better than those of students whose teachers did not use the platform, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Educational Computing Research. Conducted by Neil T. Heffernan, PhD, of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), and Kenneth R. Koedinger, PhD, and Elizabeth A. McLaughlin, both of Carnegie Mellon University, the study examined data collected from 1,240 seventh grade students in four schools in an urban Massachusetts school district.

The study (http://tinyurl.com/34j4ylj) compared students’ seventh-grade year-end test scores to their comparable scores at the end of sixth grade. Students at three schools where ASSISTments was used were shown to significantly outperform their peers at the fourth school, where it was not used. The improvement in test scores was pronounced for all students in the schools where ASSISTments was used... _ScienceBlog
One up and coming online approach to math tutoring for children is "Mathletics."
Mathletics portends of the education system that is to come. Beyond its strong approach to pushing students to love math, it is also digitally equipped in ways that give it a clear edge over previous programs. Students can login anytime 24/7, from any internet-capable computer, and continue their lessons. Not quite as good as having a teacher available at all hours of the day, but still pretty good. The reward system takes a note from many popular video games on the market, allowing students to build virtual avatars they can customize by earning more points. There’s also intelligent response from the system – Mathletics adapts to students during exercises, adjusting difficulty to match progress so far. Students can track their personal progress and, when ready, compete against their peers on a global scale. That gives each mathlete the feeling that they are part of something bigger, a sense of belonging that could transform math from a fun challenge to a purposeful part of their lives. _SingularityInstitute
One of the reasons why web-based programs may be particularly suitable for mathematics tutoring, is the personalised nature of mathematical "understanding." The Eureka! or Aha! moment of comprehending a mathematical concept is less social and more personal. It is nice when such personal moments can be shared, but that is not necessarily how it happnes. Due to the uniqueness of each individual brain -- and the brain's historical experiences -- the moment of cohesive comprehension for one brain is not likely to occur at the same time as for another brain. Mathematics is both more logical and more emotional than many human endeavours. This makes it a more delicate subject to teach.

Personal tutoring almost always involves some level of interpersonal tension or pressure to perform. Sometimes a student says he understands a point, just to keep things moving. When it subsequently becomes clear that the student does not understand, interpersonal tensions can ratchet upwards. With computers, such tension is typically absent.

Most learning software is still abysmally primitive and uninformed -- in terms of how children and adolescents learn. As more people with a deep insight into learning psychology come together to create improved approaches to computer tutoring, better learning should take place in several new areas besides just maths.


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