Archive for March 15, 2010

Improving Girls’ Math Scores with Emotion-Sensitive Tutor

In earlier studies conducted in Greenfield and other schools, the software has improved student math test scores by 10 percent, a critical difference for those who are struggling to pass. As Woolf explains, “Our original work was to find out where girls needed extra attention and how to give it to them. According to our studies, the extra support they need compared to boys is more about emotion than information.”

via UMass Amherst Office of News & Information : News Releases : UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Develop an Emotion-Sensitive, Computer-based Tutor That Improves Girls’ Math Scores.

The part that I think is really fascinating is how the computer senses emotion.

Most recently, they’ve added sensors and cameras so the computer can recognize when students are happy or stressed, fidgeting, frustrated or feeling confident. Guided by such cues, the “learning companion” character reaches out with encouraging words to praise a student’s effort, offer a hint or suggest that trying again is an important aspect of learning.

The article seems to suggest that it’s not a gender-specific need for more emotion-sensitivity, but that it’s about trying to correct waning interest in girls.  The emotion sensitivity is about trying to remind the girls that they used to like math.

March 15, 2010 at 1:40 pm 4 comments

Adoption and Crisis

I only just got back from Milwaukee and SIGCSE 2010 yesterday afternoon, so I’m still too tired and frazzled to be reflective yet.  However, that’s never stopped me from voicing an opinion before!  Two ideas are popping up regularly in my thoughts about the event.

First, about adoption of a curriculum approach:  I think we’ve reached a new stage with Media Computation.   Based on the theory of innovation diffusion, we are at least at “Early Adopters” and may even be in “Early Majority.”  Yes, people came up to Barb and I several times this last week to tell us, “I’m using your book!”  That’s much appreciated!  What’s really exciting, though, are all the uses beyond our books.  It’s less about the books, and more about the approach, the idea of using media manipulation as a context for introductory computing. That’s really exciting.

  • I had even more people coming up to me saying, “I’m using Media Computation.”  When I asked for more information, I’d learn that they’re using 1/2 the term, or at least one assignment, with sound or image manipulation.
  • Of the six presenters at our session on “Variations on a Theme,” only two were “using our book.”  Four had built their own libraries, one of which was in Scheme!  I met several people using the Luther College cImage package — some even without using their book.  Multiple libraries floating around suggests that the idea is getting more well-established.
  • I’m thrilled that there was finally a “Nifty Assignment” using Media Computation.  When we tried to get Media Computation assignments in previously, we were told that they didn’t want “special software.” They want “Nifty Assignments” to be something that anybody could do.  So, the appearance of a MediaComp “Nifty” suggests: It’s going mainstream.

The second thought that keeps coming to me is not nearly so pleasant.  Several people at SIGCSE 2010 were talking about their intro courses as being as full as they’ve ever been.  Now, if those intro course enrollments turn into majors and later course enrollments, then the enrollment crisis has ended.  As a side issue, I do have some doubts and concerns about that.  Schools that I’ve been hearing from have had rising introductory course enrollments for the last year or two, but aren’t seeing those students in later classes.

Barb pointed out the real problem to me.  The looming crisis is about teacher availability.

  • High school teachers.  Just before we left for SIGCSE, we heard that Georgia is losing some of the new CS teachers that we’ve helped create in the last few years through “Georgia Computes!”   School districts are cutting back, and telling schools to lay off teachers.  Some of these schools and districts are unionized (or follow union rules) which require layoffs to be based on seniority.  Our new CS teachers are the newest teachers in the school. Thus, we’re losing the CS teachers first.  I heard on Saturday from Chris Stephenson of CSTA that this is happening in California, too.  Just as we’re making progress, we might end up losing ground through bureaucracy of cutbacks.
  • Undergraduate faculty.  At SIGCSE, I learned of two top-ranked institutions (both in the top 20 of computer science departments in the US) that are laying off teaching staff — really good teaching staff, leaders in the national CS education community.  The cause is pretty simple.  Universities and colleges are getting their budgets cut, too.  They can’t easily lay off tenure track, research-focused faculty. They are instead laying off their teaching-track faculty.

Schools tend to be lagging economic indicators.  First, industry picks up, job numbers increase, then tax revenues increase, and finally budget increases flow to schools.  Since those first events are (arguably) just starting, those latter ones are still a way off.  We may lose more teachers than we gain in next couple years.  This may put growth in computing enrollments and graduate production at risk.  I hope I’m

March 15, 2010 at 12:52 pm 3 comments


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