A model education

Using computers to teach has a long and storied history. The most obvious approach is to use the computer as you would in any other setting, to automate the routine tasks. This is where the venerable Scantron comes into being. A further step is to have the computer administer tests and drills completely automatically. Electronically providing material which would ordinarily be handled in lecture, or in a textbook, is the next step. But while these are all more or less effective ways of replacing parts of the classroom, they do not handle the actual teaching aspect. Spoonfeeding presentations doesn't suffice, either. The teacher must be able to make good guesses at what is going on in the learner's head, test these guesses with exercises, and handle questions. This is where artificial intelligence and cognitive science research comes into play, in the form of a field called intelligent tutoring systems. Using models of learning processes, these systems plan lessons and provide interactive exercises tailored to the individual.

I will not go into much detail today about specifics, in part because I am not terribly well read on the topic, and also I just finished up my Ludum Dare entry so I'm quite tired. I do want to point out an interesting angle here for programming games. I initially got interested in learning models for the purpose of planning lessons for a game, but I eventually realized that the models themselves are interesting fodder for gameplay. We might present an automated agent, which learns through the mechanisms of an EPAM, SOAR, or Cascade, and require the player to teach the agent to perform some task. This would be accomplished through the creation of lessons and environments for the agent to interact with and learn from. In order to do so, the player would need to be able to deconstruct his own understanding of the task, and think of how to build up an algorithm in the "mind" of the agent.

There are obvious parallels to programming. This method also invites a self-reflective look at the player's own learning mechanisms, and the process of education in general. The unfortunate truth is, however, that these models can get messy quickly. Perhaps a model designed with less emphasis on descriptive power can provide a clearer tool for learning about learning.