How Students Learn By Teaching A Computer

A unique phenomenon with no explanation. By teaching a computer how to solve an equation, research shows a student also learns.

Discovering the reasoning behind that phenomenon is a top priority for Dr. Noboru Matsuda, associate professor of cyber STEM education in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture. He is currently involved in three National Science Foundation (NSF) grants related to designing and testing educational technology

Matsuda’s research involves the creation of artificial intelligence technologies that you can teach. He uses this technology for students to learn by teaching. Students are asked to teach the computer agent how to solve an equation. In turn, the students learn by teaching. Dr. Matsuda and his team also built scaffolding technology to help teachers understand how best they can teach.

Matsuda’s technologies have been used by more than 2,500 students. The data has shown that if the students teach the computer how to solve an equation, they also learn.

“At the beginning, they don’t know how to solve equations and teach the agent very incorrectly. On day four, they magically manage to teach. It’s an interesting phenomenon.”

Matsuda admits he does not have a clear answer as to why students learn better by teaching. In fact, as a professor, he still learns something new about the way his students learn each semester. He hopes his latest research will help find the sweet spot between the teaching and learning.

“Learning how to solve equations by teaching is an interesting phenomenon, but the data clearly shows students actually learn by teaching. I’m still trying to understand it. It would be nice if we could find that ah-ha moment. There must be an ah-ha moment for every single student.”

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