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Automatically Understanding Handwritten Self-explanations

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

CoED General Technical Session II

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.246.1 - 25.246.10



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Paper Authors


James Herold University of California, Riverside

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James Herold earned his B.S. in computer science at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona in 2004. He is currently a Ph.D. student in computer science at the University of California, Riverside.

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Thomas Stahovich University of California, Riverside

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Thomas Stahovich received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988. He received a S.M. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1990 and 1995, respectively. He is currently Chair and Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of California, Riverside.

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Automatically understanding student self-explanations Research has demonstrated that written self-explanation can lead students to rethink their work,potentially increasing their understanding of the material. We have found, however, that not all self-explanation is substantive. Our goal is to develop computational techniques capable of determining if astudent’s explanation is relevant or not. This will then enable us to create an interactive system capableof prompting students to continue their explanations when necessary. This is a tractable task as thereare typically a small number of concepts expected for each explanation. The language used to expressthose concepts can vary greatly, but our task is only to identify the existence of the concepts, not toperform general machine interpretation. In this paper, we present early work on automaticallyunderstanding students' hand-written self-explanations describing their work on homework problems. In winter of 2011, we conducted a study in which 39 students in an undergraduate Statics coursewere asked to provide hand-written self-explanations of their work. Students were provided a set ofquestions with each homework assignment, eliciting explanation of their reasoning for each step of thesolution process. For example, students were asked why they chose the free body diagram they usedand, for friction problems, whether or not they assumed any bodies were slipping. Students wererequired to write homework solutions and self-explanations using an Anoto digital pen, creating a time-stamped digital copy of their work. In this paper, we employ information extraction techniques to automatically extract essentialrelations from the students’ self-explanations, enabling the machine to determine which concepts arepresent. For example, given a student’s self-explanation transcript, our software can determine if astudent assumed any bodies were on the verge of slip, and if so, which bodies. In our experiments, our technique has proven to be quite accurate. For example, in one case itwas more than 90% accurate at determining if students assumed bodies were on the verge of slip. Thislevel of accuracy is quite encouraging and paves the way for future work on intelligent tutoringsystems.

Herold, J., & Stahovich, T. (2012, June), Automatically Understanding Handwritten Self-explanations Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21006

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