Buros-Nebraska Series on Measurement and Testing


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From: The Computer and the Decision-Making Process, edited by Terry B. Gutkin and Steven L. Wise (Hillsdale, New Jersey, Hove & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991) .


Copyright © 1991 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Digital Edition Copyright © 2012 Buros Center for Testing. This book may be downloaded, saved, and printed by an individual for their own use. No part of this book may be re-published, re-posted, or redistributed without written permission of the holder of copyright.


In this chapter we plan to explore two issues in the field of intelligent computer assisted instruction (ICAI) that we feel offer opportunities to advance the state of the art. These issues are evaluation of ICAI systems and the use of the underlying technology in ICAI systems to develop tests. For each issue we will provide a theoretical context, discuss key constructs, provide a brief window to the appropriate literature, suggest methodological solutions and conclude with a concrete example of the feasibility of the solution from our own research.


ICAI is the application of artificial intelligence to computer-assisted instruction. Artificial intelligence, a branch of computer science, is making computers "smart" in order to (a) make them more useful and (b) understand intelligence (Winston, 1977). Topic areas in artificial intelligence have included natural language processing (Schank, 1980), vision (Winston, 1975), knowledge representation (Woods, 1983), spoken language (Lea, 1980), planning (Hayes-Roth, 1980), and expert systems (Buchanan, 1981). The field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has matured in both hardware and software. The most commonly used language in the field is LISP (List Processing). A major development in the hardware area is that personal LISP machines are now available at a relatively low cost (20-50K) with the power of prior mainframes. In the software area two advances stand out: (a) programming support environments such as LOOPS (Bobrow & Stefik, 1983) and (b) expert system tools. These latter tools are now running on powerful micros. The application of "expert systems" technology to a host of real-world problems has demonstrated the utility of artificial intelligence techniques in a very dramatic style. Expert system technology is the branch of artificial intelligence at this point most relevant to ICAI.

Expert Systems

Knowledge-based systems or expert systems are a collection of problem-solving computer programs containing both factual and experiential knowledge and data in a particular domain. When the knowledge embodied in the program is a result of a human expert elicitation, these systems are called expert systems. A typical expert system consists of a knowledge base, a reasoning mechanism popularly called an "inference engine" and a "friendly" user interface. The knowledge base consists of facts, concepts, and numerical data (declarative knowledge), procedures based on experience or rules of thumb (heuristics), and causal or conditional relationships (procedural knowledge). The inference engine searches or reasons with or about the knowledge base to arrive at intermediate conclusions or final results during the course of problem solving. It effectively decides when and what knowledge should be applied, applies the knowledge and determines when an acceptable solution has been found. The inference engine employs several problem-solving strategies in arriving at conclusions. Two of the popular schemes involve starting with a good description or desired solution and working backwards to the known facts or current situation (backward chaining), and starting with the current situation or known facts and working toward a goal or desired solution (forward chaining). The user interface may give the user choices (typically menu-driven) or allow the user to participate in the control of the process (mixed initiative). The interface allows the user: to describe a problem, input knowledge or data, browse through the knowledge base, pose question, review the reasoning process of the system, intervene as necessary, and control overall system operation. Successful expert systems have been developed in fields as diverse as mineral exploration (Duda & Gaschnig, 1981) and medical diagnosis (Clancy, 1981).

ICAI Systems

ICAI systems use approaches artificial intelligence and cognitive science to teach a range of subject matters. Representative types of subjects include: (a) collection of facts, for example, South American geography in SCHOLAR (Carbonell & Collins, 1973); (b) complete system models, for example, a ship propulsion system in STEAMER (Stevens & Steinberg, 1981) and a power supply in SOPHIE (Brown, Burton, & de Kleer, 1982); (c) completely described procedural rules, for example, strategy learning, WEST (Brown, Burton, & de Kleer, 1982), or arithmetic in BUGGY (Brown & Burton, 1978); (d) partly described procedural rules, for example, computer programming in PROUST (Johnson & Soloway, 1983); LISP Tutor (Anderson, Boyle, & Reiser, 1985); rules in ALGEBRA (McArthur, Stasz, & Hotta, 1987); diagnosis of infectious diseases in GUIDON (Clancey, 1979); and an imperfectly understood complex domain, causes of rainfall in WHY (Stevens, Collins, & Goldin, 1978). Excellent reviews by Barr and Feigenbaum (1982) and Wenger (1987) document many of these ICAI systems. Representative research in ICAI is described by O'Neil, Anderson, and Freeman (1986) and Wenger (1987).

Although suggestive evidence has been provided by Anderson et al. (1985), few of these ICAI projects have been evaluated in any rigorous fashion. In a sense they have all been toy systems for research and demonstration. Yet, they have raised a good deal of excitement and enthusiasm about their likelihood of being effective instructional environments.

With respect to cognitive science, progress has been made in the following areas: identification and analysis of misconceptions or "bugs" (Clement, Lockhead, & Soloway, 1980), the use of learning strategies (O'Neil & Spielberger, 1979; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986), expert versus novice distinction (Chi, Glaser, & Rees, 1982), the role of mental models in learning (Kieras & Bovair, 1983), and the role of self-explanations in problem solving (Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reimann, & Glaser, 1987).

The key components of an ICAI system consist of a knowledge base: that is, (a) what the student is to learn; (b) a student model, either where the student is now with respect to subject matter or how student characteristics interact with subject matters, and (c) a tutor, that is, instructional techniques for teaching the declarative or procedural knowledge. These components are described in more detail by Fletcher (1985).