The UCSB brown-bag forum on spatial thinking presents

Tom Stahovich

Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Riverside

Does neatness count? Inferring student competence from the temporal and spatial organization of handwritten solutions to engineering problems

Phelps Hall 3512
12:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Abstract. This talk describes our work in using smartpens to assess student learning in undergraduate engineering courses. Smartpens serve the same function as traditional ink pens and additionally record the work as time-stamped pen strokes, enabling us to see not only the final ink on the page, but also the sequence in which it was written. We have used these devices to capture students’ solutions to homework and exam problem in an engineering statics course. To date, about 500 students have participated in our studies, and we have collected nearly 14 million pen strokes. We have developed algorithms that work from the pen stroke data to compute quantitative features describing the spatial and temporal organization of students’ problem solutions. We use these features to train machine learning models to predict student competence. For example, we have created models to predict the correctness of students’ exam solutions. For this task, our features explained nearly half of the variance in students’ exam grades (R2 = 0.46). This is a surprising result given that the features do not consider the semantic content of the writing, or even the value of the final answer. This talk will describe both our computational techniques for assessing learning and the insights we have gained about the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful problem-solving behaviors.

Dr. Stahovich received his B.S in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley in 1988. He received his S.M. and Ph.D. from MIT in 1990 and 1995 respectively. He conducted his doctoral research at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. After serving as an Assistant and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) Stahovich joined the Mechanical Engineering Department at UC Riverside in 2003. His research interests include educational informatics, engineering education, sketch understanding, pen-based computing, and human-computer interaction.

The objectives of the ThinkSpatial brown-bag presentations are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.
Please contact Andrea Ballatore (893-5267, to review and schedule possible discussion topics or presentations that share your disciplinary interest in spatial thinking.