Teaching Answers

In my mailbox today, the following abstract for an internal research/interest group meeting:

Can Question-Answer technologies enhance learning?
 
Asking questions must be regarded as a fundamental right for any learner, but providing answers is time consuming and potentially frustrating when the same question appears for the tenth time. Whilst some techniques, such as FAQs, may help, the essential problem appears to be that the available tools do not enable students to find an answer to their question. Instead they provide a list of possible resources that may address the question.

Over the previous decade the MUC (DARPA), TREC (NIST) and CoNLL (Association for Computational Linguistics) conferences have encouraged the development of natural language tools to address the question-answer problem. Many of the tools are now in the public domain and could form the basis of a new class of search engine. However, the task is not a simple one.

Drawing on resources from T320, this talk will describe some of the work that has been undertaken in applying Q-A techniques for closed-domains as an adjunct for the existing search tools available within the VLE. The key tasks have been the analysis of forum messages from which to extract questions and the preparation of a corpus from which to extract answers. The preliminary results suggest that students don’t ask questions and that our materials don’t provide answers. But that begs another question!

(which in part reminds me of an old, old KMi project, the “Virtual Forum Participant” (aka “Uncle Bulgaria”)).

Anyway, I’ve been pondering related issues in the context a bit lately, and the following occurs to me: given the number of times a week I end up (via Google) finding technical questions I’m struggling with answered at Stack Overflow, is there a role for guerilla teachers answering questions on Stack Overflow and then adding a bit of teaching/abstraction about why the answer works as a bit of added value? Or reading student blogs/learning diaries and posting teaching interventions or feedback as comments? [See also: Open Course Production and Guerrilla Education: Teaching and Learning at the Speed of News]

It also occurs to me that question and answer sites can, in certain respects, provide pages that act as a bridge between the naive language of a novice and the more formal language of an expert, which may be handy in terms of SEO, though it may upset things as far as reading level goes (which is now supported, after a fashion, in advanced Google web queries. e.g. Google adds reading level)

PS By posting my thoughts here, rather than to a departmental mailing list, I am, I guess, just reinforcing the zero profile I have in my department…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...