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Teaching Intangibles With Technology

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European and Israeli researchers have developed an education system that focuses on teaching students critical thinking, social interaction, discourse, rhetoric, and self-expression. The system helps instructors track who is participating in classroom discussions, how often they contribute, and how valuable those contributions are. The European Union-funded Argunaut program has developed discussion software that maps conversations, which enables classes to break into small groups to discuss topics via computers. The Argunaut system provides two levels of feedback to teachers. The first provides quantitative data in a graph that displays who is talking a lot or not at all and who has not contributed to discussions in at least 15 minutes. The second level uses artificial intelligence to provide qualitative data on the types of statements students are making and their potential value for the discussion and underlying learning process. The second level is a learning program that builds on records of previous discussions, with the aid of annotations by teachers that highlight the types of comments that are relevant or irrelevant, and the different types of arguments. Conversations are presented to teachers in a visual graph and describe the ongoing discussion. Teachers can use the observations made by the software to suggest that a group broaden its discussion.

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