student doing algebra student doing algebra A new web-based tool can help students with complex problems. (Lightpoet/Shutterstock)

Professors and students band together to help reduce course confusion

A web-based learning tool aims to improve communication and instruction.

You've surely experienced something like this in college: You're prepping for your Physics 101 final exam and aren't quite sure you understood that part where the professor goes into the specifics of Einstein's theory of relativity. The professor, unaware of the confusion, makes it the centerpiece of the exam and, well, your test results aren't very pretty.

Fortunately, this scenario may soon be a thing of the past. That's thanks to students and faculty members from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ben-Gurion University of Israel. They worked together to develop a system that can predict what parts of a professor's lesson plan are likely to cause the most confusion among students.

Dr. Kobi Gal of Ben-Gurion University brought along two of his students to MIT earlier this year to work with Professor David Karger. There, the four researchers analyzed Nota Bene, a web-based tool invented by Karger that facilitates communication among students and teachers.

Together the four of them mapped how the students interacted on the forum, using an algorithm developed by the three Israelis that can make accurate predictions about students’ use of tools such as Nota Bene.

With this they were able to predict the expected thread length of an initial post in the forum, with the understanding that from thread length it could be gleaned how confused students were about a given topic.

The team believes this will better equip teachers in the future to more clearly instruct material that has been difficult for past students to understand.

“There are hundreds of thousands of comments in the forum, but no one was looking at how the students were using them," Dr. Gal explained. "By analyzing posts from previous courses, we can predict where teachers are likely to need to intervene and clarify for the students."


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