Can online courses work for struggling students?

by Grace

Can online instruction provide struggling students with the “human component and support” they need?

A local high school that experimented with online summer classes for students who had failed courses during the regular school year found it didn’t work out very well.

“It was interesting, but it didn’t work (because) they didn’t have that human component and support,” said Pelham’s interim superintendent, Charlie Wilson. “The kids who had failed it to begin with still weren’t able to pass it on the computer…

They had tried the online option as a way to save money, but now they have returned to traditional summer school classes.

New York Times editorial reiterates this issue in “The Trouble With Online College”:

… courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed.

Maybe “emotion-sensing technology” can substitute for a portion of the “human component and support” that struggling students need.

Facial Analysis Software Spots Struggling Students

A computer can learn to recognize, and respond intelligently to, users’ emotional state.

A recent study from North Carolina State University shows how this might work. Researchers there used video cameras to monitor the faces of college students participating in computer tutoring sessions. Using software that had been trained to match facial expressions with different levels of engagement or frustration, the researchers were able to recognize when students were experiencing difficulty and when they were finding the work too easy.

The project suggests a way for technology to help teachers keep track of students’ performance in real time. Perhaps it could even help massively open online courses (or MOOCs), which can involve many thousands of students working remotely, to be more attuned to students’ needs (see “The Crisis in Higher Education”).

It also hints at what could prove to be a broader revolution in the application of emotion-sensing technology. Computers and other devices that identify and respond to emotion—a field of research known as “affective computing”—are starting to emerge from academia. They sense emotion in various ways; some measure skin conductance, while others assess voice tone or facial expressions (see “Wearable Sensor Knows What Overwhelms You” and “Technology that Knows When to Hand You a Hankie”).

Hybrid learning
Even with sophisticated emotion-sensing technology, the suggested solution still involves a human who can respond to a student’s difficulties.  This is consistent with other research that shows hybrid learning holds the most promise for incorporating technology into education.

However, I don’t think a computer has been developed that can fully replace the parent who needs to get her kid out of bed on a summer morning to attend class.  For the most part, this still requires human intervention.

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2 Comments to “Can online courses work for struggling students?”

  1. We are a long way from a computer that could get my kids to remember to do their homework

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  2. I’m looking forward to the implantation of brain chips, for me AND my kids!

    Like

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