Another dot in the blogosphere?

Whither cognitive tutors?

Posted on: April 9, 2019

Cognitive tutors (CTs) was an item on the Masters course document I was given a few months ago. It was an unusual item given how little I had heard about it of late.

The first time I heard about CTs was almost 15 years ago. I asked a colleague whose academic focus was intelligent agents to educate me on CTs. He used Microsoft’s Clippy to illustrate.

Clippy sensed what you might be doing in MS Word and offered to help. For example, it might detect that you were writing a formal letter and offer to format it.

Clippy is long buried in the digital graveyard. But newer CTs like Carnegie’s authoring tool allow teachers to do essentially the same thing — scaffold learner processes so that they arrive at learning products.

Current CTs like PhotoMath and Wolfram Alpha operate differently. They provide learning products (e.g., math answers) and give students the choice to learn the processes.

While a traditionalist might shudder at the thought of allowing students to take shortcuts, I argue that current CT apps give the learner agency. That sort of empowerment is more important than trying to merely engage. The former relies on learner motivation while the latter depends on teacher edutainment.

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