Uruguay Lecture

Professor participates at conference in Punta del Esta
March 10, 2014

As spring break begins this weekend, Janice Gobert, associate professor of social science and policy studies, will be heading south—to Uruguay.

Along with 40 senior scholars from across the globe, Gobert, whose field is learning sciences and psychology, has been asked to participate in the Latin American School for Education, Cognitive, and Neural Sciences in Punta del Esta. During the two-week annual event, she will speak about her research on the design of learning and assessment technologies for science.

The LASchool, an initiative supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, brings in researchers to work with graduate students, posdocs and junior faculty members.  Begun in 2011, the school was held in previous years in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.

The intention is to blend the best of the separate disciplines to enhance innovations in education internationally, especially among underserved populations.

The genesis of the LASchool emerged in 2007 from the Santiago Declaration, an international agreement signed by experts in child development. The Declaration underlines the priority of early childhood education while emphasizing that it be “based on the best scientific research and be sensitive to evidence-based practice.”

Gobert’s presentation in Uruguay will draw from a new paper, “From Log Files to Assessment Metrics: Measuring Students’ Science Inquiry Skills Using Educational Data Mining,” which has just been published in the prestigious Journal of Learning Science.

Her group at WPI, Science Learning by Inquiry, developed Inq-ITS (Inquiry Intelligent Tutoring System), a virtual environment that both provides teachers with data on students’ science inquiry skills and reacts to students to tutor their inquiry skills in real time as per their individual needs.  The assessment and tutoring system, based on machine-learning algorithms, was recently described in a U.S. patent application by Gobert, Ryan Baker (formerly at WPI, now at Columbia University), and Michael Sao Pedro (a recent doctoral student of Gobert’s).

The implications for the classroom are significant, especially given the overcrowding and high teacher-student ratio that are endemic in the American public school system. Inq-ITS is currently being tested in Oregon (as well as in many schools in Massachusetts), where there can be up to fifty students in a class with a single teacher.

“The system is in the final development and testing phase right now,” she says. “The Oregon implementation will provide us with important information that will help us scale.”

In a separate project, her team has also developed an eye tracking system, intended to help students acquire knowledge more effectively from digital material.

She is delighted to have been invited to the LASchool, “the first time I’ve gone on this extravaganza.”

As researchers and students from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities come together to study, collaborate, and brainstorm, the goal is “to think about a vision for education,” she says. “Specifically, our goal is to use what we know about cognition, development, and neuroscience to frame and envision better learning for students and schools from these disciplinary perspectives.”

The McDonnell Foundation “has its finger on the pulse of people who are doing cutting edge work,” she says. “I’m very flattered to be included in this group.”