Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Simple Science: Computers That Help People Learn

This is a post in our Simple Science Descriptions series of pieces written with the Up-Goer Five Text Editor restricting writers to the ten hundred most used words in English. It's harder than you might think! Send your entries (preferably under 350 words) to jeanyang [at] mit [dot] edu.


In my work, I build things on the computer that make it easier for people to use computers. Why? Because most people don't want to know how a computer works inside; they just want to use it to do interesting and fun things.

One thing that many people of all ages want to do is learn. People like learning all sorts of new ideas, and computers can make that easier. I am now making things on the computer that help people learn better than just using paper and books. To do so, I need to first watch how people learn, see how they struggle with what they now use to learn, make new things on the computer for those people, have people use them, and see if they learn better.

What I am making today is a thing that helps people learn how to build new things on computers. Why learn how to build new things on computers? Because it is very fun, and also because you can get many kinds of good jobs doing so ... some that even offer free food at the office! But it is very hard to learn how to do this if you don't have a teacher always sitting next to you. Most people don't have their own teacher but still want to learn by themselves.

This is why I am making a teacher inside of the computer. Just like a human teacher, this computer-teacher helps people learn to build new things on computers. A big part of this computer-teacher's job is to draw pictures of things inside of the computer that books only say in words, which makes it much easier for people to learn those ideas. It also tries to explain those pictures using simple words and gives students a place to ask questions and talk about those pictures with other students. This computer-teacher has already been used by people in many parts of the world to draw over 500,000 pictures to help them learn! Right now, I am continuing to make it work better for more kinds of students.
- Philip Guo, Professor's Assistant

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