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Scholars Test Emotion-Sensitive Tutoring Software

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Virtual Tutor

Screenshot courtesy of University of Massachusetts Amherst and Arizona State University in Tempe

University of Massachusetts Amherst's Beverly Park Woolf and Ivon M. Arroyo, along with Arizona State University's Winslow Burleson have developed an intelligent-tutoring system known as Wayang Outpost, which uses realistic problems to teach geometry.

The system picks up on students' emotions through sensors in the computer, the students' chairs, and other parts of the learning environment. A bracelet sensor worn by a student detects changes in pulse and moisture levels on the skin. Sensors in the chair cushions determine a student's posture, which can be a good indicator of mood and attentiveness.

The computer mouse is rigged with pressure-sensitive sensors that signal if a student is squeezing harder in possible frustration. A camera in the computer takes cues from the eyebrows, mouth, and nose to determine if a student is smiling, frowning, or yawning. The program combines and analyzes the data and can correctly identify variation in students' emotions more than half the time. The program uses animated characters that mirror the emotions of a user and offer an appropriate response. The characters provide feedback that emphasizes the value of effort.

In addition to raising average achievement, the program improves the way that students think about their own math skills. After the tutoring sessions, students are more likely to believe they are good at math. Students also seem to get bored with the tutoring program less than with an unemotional system.

The University of Memphis' Arthur C. Graesser and Sidney D'Mello also have been researching emotionally enhanced tutoring systems. They examined how students respond to tutoring characters of certain genders or racial groups, and found that students responded the same to all different characters.

From Education Week
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