One of the most valuable types of learning conversations that can occur is when a student with a problem describes his situation to an expert, and the expert is reminded of and reciprocates with an applicable story. In such a situation, the student can make the story his own, labeling it and applying it to his current problem.
While such case-based teaching is common in the world outside of school, it is rare in today's classrooms. To overcome the obstacles which block schools from adopting case-based teaching, we developed a method of using computers to help, called the Case-Based Teaching Architecture. The Case-Based Teaching Architecture exploits the basic capacity for students to learn from stories and the basic desire of teachers and experts to tell stories that encapsulate their experiences.
This architecture starts by placing the student in an inherently interesting situation. It then monitors the student as he works through the situation, teaching him what he needs to know at precisely the moments he wants to know it. By noticing when the student is blocked or has experienced an expectation failure, the program can know when the student is ready to learn. Timeliness is crucial. Stories need to be made available to the student. Students should be able to ask for advice when they want it. But they should not always have to ask for advice in order to receive it. Advice should be offered in response to actions taken by the students, or good stories should be told in response to ideas proposed by the students. The more relevant the stories, and the more compelling and visually appealing the stories, the better case-based teaching works.
The Case-Based Teaching Architecture naturally complements the Learning By Doing Architecture. Learning by doing provides the interesting task. The task should satisfy two constraints: 1) it should be inherently appealing to students (e.g., there would be no problem in getting them interested in the task) and 2) it should lead students into expectation failures so that they can develop questions. The Case-Based Teaching Architecture can then provide cases that provide answers to those questions.
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