The Niche for Software

When I taught a class in cognitive modeling, I tried to get students to think on their own, ask their own questions, and pursue their own hypotheses. The class worked well, but not as well as it could. Some students in it were inevitably frustrated because they could not get their questions addressed, or because we did not have time to pursue the argument they wanted to build.

To help them develop their thoughts (as well as develop the ability to develop their thoughts), I had the students turn in brief papers each week describing their positions. But, these papers pale in effectiveness compared to one-on-one conversations. By the time the students got the papers back a week or more after they had written them, they often had forgotten what they were thinking and why. They were on to other concerns. The paper-writing cycle has just too thin a bandwidth for communication to offer much of the benefits of interaction.

The educational computer systems I describe in this book are intended to help solve the shortcomings I faced in my cognitive modeling class. I am often asked why I think it is important for students to sit down with automated teachers, and why I wouldn't rather have them sit down with real teachers. The answer is that, of course, I would rather have students be able to rely on real teachers. But that is rarely an option. The experts we have captured in our programs have only so much time to spend educating others. Dr. Boyd cannot spend her days waiting to answer questions at The Museum of Science and Industry, but through the Sickle Cell program her knowledge is available there every day.

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