Bringing human elements to computerized tutors

I, TUTOR: Author and researcher Annie Murphy Paul recalls in the NYTimes how Benjamin Bloom's groundbreaking research on the effectiveness of tutoring has spawned efforts by researchers to deliver its benefits through computer programs. Just being able to tell a student what's right or wrong is not enough; researchers and professors continue to struggle with tweaking the variables needed to bring in the human, emotional element. Paul profiles work at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to develop a free tutoring program called ASSISTments. (Among its notable features: teachers and students can modify its content--a crowd-sourcing approach akin to Wikipedia, Paul notes.) Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post shares research suggesting that having an on-screen avatar capable of performing social cues may do the trick. It may lead to a new twist on the classic Turing Test: how many data points might it take until a computerized tutor could help a student as much as a living, breathing one?

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