Cognitive Tutors

This reading critique was written by Monet Spells for Educational Technology (CS 6460, Fall 2014) at Georgia Tech.

Cognitive Tutors: Technology Bringing Learning Science to the Classroom
by Koedinger, K. and Corbett, A

In this reading, the authors advocate for cognitive tutors: educational software that complements classroom learning. As the authors state, individual tutoring is the most successful teaching method, but it is logistically infeasible to assign every student a personal tutor to guide them through instruction. This challenge is a driving proponent of the cognitive tutor method.

The authors take into consideration traditional learning methods when supporting the call for cognitive tutors. For example, they make it very clear that pre-assessment, gradual learning, and student tracking are vital to the success of the system. While this certainly wouldn’t address all students’ accumulative knowledge and the push to develop curriculum based on their pervious understandings, it is a step in the right direction. The authors describe cognitive tutors to be flexible in problem presentation, accommodating different learning styles, such as math problems presented in story, word, and equation form. The relevant mathematics and expected solution are the same between the varying presentation types, but it allows students to arrive to the solution without intimidation.

The reading also details the ways in which the system will identify errors and gaps in understanding. Before students answer a problem, the system will have a finite set of solutions the student can follow to reach the correct answer. On one hand, this flexibility allows for freedom of understanding; if a student reaches the final answer correctly, they should use whichever process they best understand. On the other hand, it is limiting in relation to explaining incorrect answers. If a student takes a wrong approach, the errors are highlighted but not further explained. Is it beneficial that cognitive tutoring software doesn’t try to understand where the student went wrong, the way a human would? Are there benefits to correcting a student’s mistake and providing the correct method without addressing their flawed thinking?