Tutoring software that senses the student’s emotions is being tested by researchers, reports Education Week.
It’s not clear yet that sensitive software will produce better results, but one experiment by University of Massachusetts and Arizona State researchers boosted the pass rate on state geometry tests by 10 percent.
The system picks up on students’ emotional states through hundreds of sensors embedded in the computer, students’ chairs, and other aspects of the students’ learning environment.
Sensors worn like a bracelet around the wrist detect changes in students’ pulse and in moisture levels on the surface of the skin. Sensors embedded in the chair cushions identify nine different postures a learner might take. Leaning forward, for example, suggests engagement, while a student leaning to the side might be bored or frustrated. On the computer mouse, pressure-sensitive sensors signal whether a student is squeezing harder in possible frustration.
The researchers also collect data on students’ emotions through a video camera embedded on the computer. It trains its focus on the student’s eyebrows, mouth, and nose, discerning whether the learner is smiling, frowning, or yawning.
The tutor can identify changes in students’ moods more than half the time, researchers say. Animated tutors “mirror those emotions and offer an appropriate response,” emphasizing the importance of effort.
What the researchers have found in some of the studies so far is that the emotion-sensitive tutors, besides boosting students’ average achievement, seem to lead to improvements in the way that students think about math and their own math abilities. They are more likely after their tutoring sessions to agree, for instance, with statements saying “mathematics is an important topic” and to believe they are good at it. Students also seem to get bored with the tutor less quickly than they do with the unenhanced system.
The emotion-sensing tutor worked best for girls, low achievers and special-education students.