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Teachers and students

In the semiotic terms of the last section, teachers and students (and sometimes authors and their readers), are involved in a special form of language game that might be called a tell/ask duality. See Figure (figure) As author and reader, or teacher and student become engaged in a conversation, they alternatively cede control of their shared attentional focus. A teacher explains by telling a story that takes some time to complete. Some of these stories are relatively self-contained, but most are only pieces of much larger stories. There must be opportunities for students to ask questions in this exchange, even as these necessarily interrupt the flow of the story.

Another way to appreciate the value of this pedagogical structure is to consider what happens when it is removed: When a query is asked of a search engine, the resulting hitlist is missing just this pedagogical structure. When trying to characterize what is most missing from hitlists, imagining a lecture which explains their relationships is one good characterization.

Our image of the classroom typically has a single teacher at the front, and many, perhaps 30 students remaining quiet to hear the lecture. The teacher has prepared readings and made these available (and maybe the students have even read them:). The lecture is part of a larger curriculum and the readings help to relate the current lecture to a larger question.

It is likely that there are simultaneously other teachers in other educational institutions teaching similar courses. For example, NSF has sponsored the construction of a repository for Computer Science Curricula . In every subject, there are other texts than the one selected by this instructor. The student, especially the good student, may check out these other sources of information, but they must be on their guard to give special emphasis to those materials most likely to affect the grade they will ultimately receive from this teacher!

Now consider the serious (in the sense that they are there to be informed, not entertained) WWW surfer. They have a question in mind and hope, somewhere on the WWW, is their answer. Their question is almost certainly much smaller than the question around which a course is defined. It may turn out that this surfer chooses, if he or she has many questions in a related area, that he or she does indeed take the course. But the point is that one of the pieces of information this surfer may well see in his search is the curriculum for a course like that one described above.

There are many important questions about just how curricular materials available via the WWW can and should be used. They range from intellectual property issues (who owns them, the institution or the faculty?), to presentation media choices, to a reconsideration of exactly what is the importance of face-to-face meetings in the classroom.

Here we concentrate on the fundamental exchange of information: who is attempting to learn what. In the class situation the teacher is charged with presenting information that most efficiently allows these students to learn the concepts the instructor thinks are important. The surfer, on the other hand, is trying to make sense of the almost random set of documents in their hitlist. As we've discussed, if the browsing user really knew the answer of their information need precisely, they wouldn't be surfing! The literate, intelligent surfer has remarkable skill at identifying documents that are likely to contain the answer to their question. In this sense they are both learner and their own teacher, trying to teach themselves.

Especially once they are beyond (compulsory,K-12) elementary education, the WWW is an excellent place for active students to construct their education. There are choices to be made between educational institutions, and then between teachers of the same class. They must pick a major discipline. Then there is perhaps graduate school, and the process repeats itself. As the workforce moves becomes more involved in continuing education, as distance learning becomes more possible and fashionable, as life-long learning becomes a political objective, students will be actively seeking curricular units of all different sizes and scopes. Many of these questions resolve ultimately in economic issues: How much is a masters' degree worth? How much is tuition at two different schools? How much larger salary can I earn if I have a certain education?

These changes go hand-in-hand with the changing institutional pressures on public and private educational systems. For example, corporations such as the Educational Testing System (ETS) are being pressed to incorporate more holistic essay questions in place of the easier-to-grade multiple choice. As a consequence, textual classification techniques like those considered in Section §7.4 are being used to explore algorithmic e-rater computer grading of ETS essay questions [Larkey98b] !

From the publishers point of view, K-12 curricula are being divided up into smaller curricular units. No longer is it necessary to buy an entire curriculum (grades K-6, mathematics) and have it adopted in toto by a school board. State guidelines have many facets, and publishers can equate units to these facets at a very fine grain of detail. Local curricular goals and then teacher preferences can help to assemble units taken from various publishers and assembled like beads on strings. For the entrepreneurial teacher this provides an excellent opportunity for them to author curriculum themselves, because he/she is in an excellent position to suggest ways that topics can be connected to guidelines.

As we build more and more autonomous agents (cf. Section §7.6 ) this interplay between teacher and student (now both software entities!) must transfer our notions of MIXED INITIATIVES . Within the field of machine learning, we typically make the assumption that the learner is extremely passive. More recent analysis extends this to situations of ACTIVE LEARNING where a large part of the problem is just how informative exemplars can be selected so as to most quickly learn.


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