Educational Technology & Society 2(2) 1999
ISSN 1436-4522

Intelligent Interactive Tutoring System

(Website review)

Reviewer: Robert Luke
Courseware Specialist
University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB T1K 3M4
Canada
Tel: +1 403 382 7146
Fax: +1 403 329 2097
Email: robert.luke@uleth.ca
URL: http://home.uleth.ca/~robert.luke/

Site URL:
http://cse.ntu.edu.sg/iits/iits.htm

Site title:
Intelligent Interactive Tutoring System

Category:
Educational

Developers:
Dr. Ashok Gupta and A/Prof. C.K. Soh
School of Civil and Structural Engineering
Nanyang Technological University SINGAPORE 639798
Tel : +65 799 5274
Fax : +65 792 1650
Email : cashok@ntu.edu.sg

Best Features:
This tutoring system does indeed operate in a functionally intelligent way. Its pedagogic principles are sound, and it provides numerous examples to support the course material. These examples are laid out in a coherent way, and do enhance the material presented for study. The practice questions are also very good, and the intelligent tutoring system allows the students to work through the problems, thus gaining an understanding of the conceptual processes involved in the subject being studied. The overall design is excellent. If, for example, a student gets a problem wrong even after the virtual tutor tries to coach the student towards the right answer, the tutor then suggests the student read the relevant chapter.

Worst Features:
It is actually hard to find bad features on this system, as overall it is very good. The colours are somewhat unappealing, but that is just personal preference. There are no links to external resources, which would enhance the site's educational value. There is also no user tracking mechanism, but since the system is for tutoring this is perhaps not necessary. However, user tracking would allow the instructors to see who is doing what with the system, and therefore get feedback for its retooling and/or improvement.

Objective of the site:
Education; course designed for Engineering Mechanics - Statics [sic] ( G123 ) for the first year Engineering students, developed by the School of Civil and Structural Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The Intelligent Interactive Tutoring System was developed because of the large numbers of students taking this course (1600 students in their first semester). The course uses the lecture-tutorial paradigm, and with students coming from so many diverse backgrounds and levels of understanding, the authors created the system "to supplement the class room teaching. The main aim was to provide the students with a self paced intelligent interactive tutoring system which could mimic the basic tutoring, thus allowing the tutors to spend more time in discussing the fundamentals." The site also states the following:
The following objectives were kept in mind while deciding on the framework of the tutoring system:
  • The system should be user-friendly. If the students have to learn how to use the system, it will probably never be used.
  • The students should be able to use the system at their own pace i.e. they will not be forced to go through a certain fixed path. They should be free to go through different chapters, topics and/or problems allowing them to proceed at their own pace and level of understanding.
  • The system should be intelligent and interactive and not merely a fancy electronic page turner. The students should be able to solve the problems interactively, and if necessary guided intelligently.
  • The system should be intelligent enough to mimic the actual tutoring by providing helpful hints to the students in solving the problems.
  • The system should have on-line submission and marking/checking facilities.
  • The system should be easily portable and accessible.
Keeping in view the broad objectives, the framework of the Intelligent Interactive Tutoring system (IITS) was developed.
Source: http://cse.ntu.edu.sg/iits/paper.htm

These objectives are entirely appropriate for the site, and are realized in a systematic fashion. They take into account the very real need for students to have access to high quality, developmentally appropriate resources that will in turn free up class and tutor time, resulting in an improved educational experience for all concerned.

Audience:
The site is specifically geared towards students enrolled in the above named course.

Domain Related Aspects:
Educational Content Analysis (by Kinshuk):
The site is quite a good example for an Engineering Mechanics course. It covers a fairly wide syllabus for introductory Mechanics and is done with accuracy. I especially liked the approach adopted. I compared it with the Cognitive Apprenticeship approach suggested by Collins, Brown & Newman (1989) where the learning process not only covers conceptual skills, but also reinforces both cognitive and procedural skills. The software allows the learner to observe the concepts and embedded abstract examples, and then allows coached practice in tutorial mode before actually leading the learner to practice on his/her own. The twofold feedback--along with hints which guide the students toward the correct solution--acts like a master or expert in a cognitive apprenticeship program. From domain and pedagogy points of view, the software is a good companion for lectures.

Collins, A., Brown, J. S. & Newman, S. E. (1989). Cognitive Apprenticeship : Teaching the crafts of reading, writing and mathematics. In: Lauren B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, Learning and Instruction, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 453-494.

Educational Value:
As noted above, the educational value of the site is quite good. It is pedagogically sound, allowing users to proceed at their own pace, and helps users to think through the problems, reinforcing the correct methodology for solving them. The course has been divided into nine chapters consisting of a Review, Tutorial, Supplementary, Practice and Frequently Asked Questions module. Each of these sections is designed to help the student understand the problems associated with the chapters and how to solve them, not just providing right or wrong answers. The site is designed as an excellent study aid. The front end of the site states the primary goal of the tutoring system:
The system has been designed to be user friendly. The system allows the students to go through any chapter, topic or question any number of times and skip whatever they are not interested in. The problems are designed to be solved via intelligent interaction between the students and the system. The students are encouraged to learn by solving the problems through Help screens without being given the complete solution. This approach reinforces the students' role as active learners engaged in the process of learning. The system is indeed intelligent in its form and function.

Connectivity:
The design of the site is very good. It uses the Macromedia Authorware plugin, and a link is provided for those who need this plugin. I had absolutely no problems using the site, but I do have a high bandwidth connection. Because the site uses the Authorware plugin, it loads completely before users can begin using it. However, I did not have to wait long to get into the site (I already had the plugin installed). Overall, I found it loaded very quickly. The only special browser requirements were to set the resolution at 800 x 600 or higher, and to use small fonts with Netscape 4.0.

Interface Related Aspects:
The layout is good, making excellent use of space. Everything was clear and concise, and the graphics are well suited to the overall presentation and appearance of the coursework. As stated earlier, I did not really like the colour scheme, but it is functional and easy to read. The information display seems significant and well laid out; the text and graphics are well balanced. The site is easy to use and navigate, and is highly intuitive in its design and methodology. Because there is a floating table of contents that remains the same on every screen finding desired information is straight forward. There is no search capability, but this is perhaps unnecessary given that the site is a tutoring system that allows users to find their own way through the material being presented. All navigation icons are text based, so there can be no confusion in navigating the site. The site uses no audio or video. The information is very well defined and laid out, and is user friendly.

Overall Issues:
The site is designed supported by Dr. Ashok Gupta and A/Prof. C.K. Soh of the School of Civil and Structural Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. It clearly states contact details for the developers. There is no advertising on the site, and there is a reference to an explanatory paper on the site's development and rationale. As mentioned earlier, there are no external links, but its overall design and interface are quite good. I think this site would be a pleasure to use for students enrolled in the course, and it certainly is of high educational value. I especially liked the pedagogical approach of reinforcing the processes of learning--the "intelligence" of the system. It could use links to external sources and references for the students, as well as a search capability. Overall, I rate this site as excellent in its pedagogy and implementation of its design goals. The Intelligent Interactive Tutoring System is an excellent use of available educational technology, and certainly meets the needs and objectives as stated in the site's rationale.


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