I came to ITS2010 with a goal of advertising, a goal of investigating, and a goal of observing

posted Jul 20, 2010, 4:08 PM by Jack Mostow
[Note:  This student was funded by a different grant but wrote a summary worth reading.  - Jack Mostow]
Everyone who takes the time to attend a conference must have his own purpose. Same for me. I came to ITS2010 with a goal of advertising, a goal of investigating, and a goal of observing. The goal of advertising is obvious. I got a full paper published at ITS2010. I had the responsibility to present this paper; and I had the willingness to let people know that  I, together with my two advisors, had done something meaningful, with the hope that somebody else may agree. The outcome was okay. At least a tutorial system that tries to enable human-like communication surely sounded attractive (My colleague told me that she heard one lady being excited about our research: “oh, that was just what I want to do!”).

Investigating was the most active learning process of me during the conference. If I only had the opportunity to learn one thing at the conference, I would have gone for the talk that sounded most technical, most AI-ish, and most speech or NLP related. So, when I opened the ITS2010 schedule, I picked the talks that looked most relevant to what I was seeking. I had the expectation that talks at ITS would not go into much technical details. What I wanted to see was where and how people used technology to do something practical (I remember that Andrew Ng of Stanford University once said that some PhD’s create new tools for the world; others become experts of where and how to use existing tools to solve real world problems). Of course, I was also interested in the major trends (such as virtual reality, machine learning) of technology development in education. Among my keywords are “facial analysis” (UCSD CERT), “corpus analysis using content vs. function words”, “question type”, “frustration detection with camera and eye-tracking”, “HMM for dialog system”, “SVM<TF-IDF (question relevance classification)”, “min pitch for detecting zoning out”, and many many others. Well, the question generation workshop gave me a longer keyword list on tools and methods, but a narrower focus.

Another thing I investigated was “What is the ITS community? What do they do?” My experience at the conference led me to the following conclusion. The interests and experience of people working on ITS form a spectrum spanning pure education and pure technology. I can see two major research directions at the ITS. The first is closer to the education end of the spectrum. Research projects that fall in this group typically look at what features make an intelligent tutor more effective. The results of these research serve as guidance of ITS development. The second research direction is mainly driven by interests of technology and the technology impact on education. As Gregory Aist pointed out, there is a third area, which is to bring ITS to its real use (see, for example, Dr. Chee-Kit, Looi’s talk).  

Observing is fun. It is like watching TV. I sometimes put myself outside the surrounding environment and simply enjoy other people’s existence. I basically observed two things: how people talked to each other and what they did when they were not talking. Sometimes, people talked about their own research. This was the time they advertise. Sometimes they asked about the other person’s research. This was the time they learn. When they were advertising, they were mostly safe. When they wanted to learn and found that they were not quite ready for what their partner was talking about, then they drew connections, asking more questions, or tried to escape. I have met with a person at the banquet who seemed to be keen on learning. Whenever I started to ask him about his project, he spoke a few words and then say “Let’s go back to your research ...” There was another girl who talked endlessly about her own research and soon other people became unimportant. I think these two people could be a perfect match if they talked to each other.

I usually sit at the back of a conference room, where I happen to be able to observe what people do when they listen to talks. Except for the day of my presentation, I did not bring a laptop. My laptop can be a distractor for me. But many people do bring laptops, and they use it during the talks. I have seen people using their laptops to take notes of what they learned from the talks. This is a very good way of taking notes since it is often faster than writing with a pen. The laptop can also be useful for browsing information that is presented during the talk since many background information can be found online. People also work during the talks, and they can still ask interesting questions after the talk. I have always admired this kind of people since I cannot do that. Parallel processing can save a lot of time, especially when the presenter is talking about something that one does not care about. Occasionally when someone is too bored, he might go online shopping or chat with his friends. I have noticed a couple of cases, but definitely the minority.

The conclusion is that I enjoyed ITS2010. And it was good to have a conference held local, which saved the pain of traveling and jet lag.