Robots

Teacher Feedback VS Machine Feedback

Do students prefer to learn from a machine?

A bit of a professional disclaimer to this week’s geek study. I do not believe that technology is ever an effective substitute for good teaching (and this is a belief rooted in quite a few empirical studies as well). Technology is a tool. My interest is how tools are leveraged by teachers to help and increase learning by students. I found the results of this study to be surprising. I’d also hesitate to draw huge conclusions from a study at a large education college and apply those results to K through 12 education.

That said, this is interesting.

Why Students Prefer to Learn from a Machine

While this article’s headline is hyperbolic, it does share a fascinating study from The International Journal of English Studies. Education students were placed in two groups. In one group, students received feedback on writing assignments from live instructors. A comparison group received feedback from a software program called Criterion. The study’s intent: to identify differences in how students responded to different forms of feedback. In short, Would students receive feedback better from one or the other and how would they act on that feedback?

The results?

The computer program appeared to transform the students’ approach to the process of receiving and acting on feedback.Comments and criticism from a human instructor actually had a negative effect on students’ attitudes about revision and on their willingness to write, the researchers note. By contrast, interactions with the computer produced overwhelmingly positive feelings, as well as an actual change in behavior—from “virtually never” revising, to revising and resubmitting at a rate of 100 percent. As a result of engaging in this process, the students’ writing improved; they repeated words less often, used shorter, simpler sentences, and corrected their grammar and spelling. These changes weren’t simply mechanical. Follow-up interviews with the study’s participants suggested that the computer feedback actually stimulated reflectiveness in the students—which, notably, feedback from instructors had not done.

Why would this be? First, the feedback from a computer program like Criterion is immediate and highly individualized—something not usually possible in big classes like those at Alexandria University, the site of the study by El Ebyary and Windeatt. Second, the researchers observed that for many students in the study, the process of improving their writing appeared to take on a game like quality, boosting their motivation to get better. Third, and most interesting, the students’ reactions to feedback seemed to be influenced by the impersonal, automated nature of the software.”Annie Murphy Paul

There’s a lot to crunch through here. Part of me wonders if generational components affected the differences in responses? What social elements allow for students to respond better to a machine rather than an individual?

And does it really matter, as long as their writing improved?

mlk

Acceptance Speech

“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”

Martin Luther King. Acceptance Speech for Nobel Prize

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Do what you love

I grew up Dutch Reformed which, besides being its own particular flavor of Christianity, is also a culture. Lots of strong families, strong work ethics, and strong community support. The food runs bland, the faith runs studious, and on Sundays you made sure not to mow the yard for fear that the neighbors might think you weren’t taking a true Sabbath.

My attitudes towards work were imminently shaped by my home culture.  Protestant work ethic certainly was fundamental (work hard). While not formally spelled out (at least at a young age), the idea of “domains” (home, church, and work) was very evident. Each domain deserved your time, energy, and sometimes money.

When it comes to what type of work (or the question of “what am I suppose to do in this life?”), I remember two specific messages from two different pastors.

The first pastor said “God doesn’t care. You going to be a ditch digger, be a ditch digger. Going to be a doctor, be a doctor. What matters is that you’re giving Him glory in whatever you do.”

The second pastor said essentially the same thing. He also put some historical context on the question of profession. “This is modern problem. For most of history, you did what your parents did, which was farming.”

This message contrasted with the message often heard during my college years and, I confess, often given to my students when I was in the classroom (at least to a certain degree).

That message was that in choosing your work profession, make sure to do what you love.

There are problems with the message. And Miya Tokumitsu does an excellent job of explaining those problems in her article “In the Name of Love Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers.”

An example of a good takeaway quote:

DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

As I work on a series of posts and a presentation on how technology is radically altering the labor market, I found this article to resonate because many of the jobs left in this current economy are service jobs. Boring, repetitious, non creative, jobs (fast food, dependent care, big box stores).

And sometimes it’s good to remember that work is just work. Not a higher calling or a reflection of who you are as an individual.