Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass professors developing tutoring software, win grant

Two University of Massachusetts researchers are looking to assist with mathematical tutoring, just not in the traditional way.

Computer science research professor Beverly Woolf and senior research fellow in the computer science department Ivon Arroyo are part of a team of researchers who have developed mathematical tutoring software – Wayang Outpost – that customizes instruction level based on student success rate

Wayang Outpost has already been used by thousands of students in western Massachusetts, in areas such as Deerfield, Springfield, Greenfield, Amherst and Holyoke.

Recently, the team received a $1.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to develop the Wayang Outpost software. The team was one of four to win the first round of the ONR’s competition.

If the software proves successful, the program will move onto the next round and ultimately be used with ONR for “sailors in naval bases who have completed high school, but perhaps still need to retake the algebra and pre-algebra,” Woolf said.

One purpose of the software is to use artificial intelligence to help close existing gaps in standardized test scores. Over the last 30 years, there has been a consistent 50-point difference between males and females on the Scholastic Aptitude Test with females scoring lower than males on the math portion of the SATs, according to “Tutoring for SAT-Math with Wayang Outpost.”

This trend continues with Wayang Outpost, as, according to the department of computer science website, the software improves student standardized test scores by 10 percent.

In past testing for the software, researchers used sensors on students’ arms and a camera on their faces to “find out whether students are frustrated, or interested, or bored …” Woolf said.

They are striving to make the system more accommodating to students’ emotional reactions as they use the software.

“In other words, the system can tell if a student failed the last two problems, they’re pretty frustrated … if they’re really doing well they’re probably interested,” Woolf said.

Once the two-year trial period is up at the middle and high school level, the naval personnel will review the software.

“Once we’ve shown results in the high schools … we begin working with people in navy bases, or people in naval academy,” Woolf said.

The researchers are going to join with Neil Heffernan from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and integrate their software with his tutoring system ASSISTment.

“His system has huge numbers, like thousands of [math] problems, and ours has hundreds of problems …” said Woolf.

Both programs cater to math students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. With the combined programs, math teachers will have access to all of the math problems from each program.

“With a richer supply we hope to get better results,” Woolf said.

According to Woolf, they are trying to achieve “two sigma,” or an improvement of about two letter grades.

With Wayang Outpost, Woolf, Arroyo and the rest of the research team are trying to raise the high school math class average from a 60th percentile to an 80th percentile.

Students can use the software for free at Looking at log files, researchers can tell that the program is being used all over the world.

“We actually hope that it’s going to start being used in Pakistan, but that’s not definite yet. We’re working on it,” Woolf said.

But at UMass, only one teacher has used the software. Brian Emond, a senior lecturer in the mathematics and statistics department, uses the software in his Math 114, or Math for Elementary School Teachers II class during the fall semester.

He started using Wayang Outpost “several years ago, as they were developing it,” Emond said. The students have mainly used the software for geometry, and it’s been helpful.

“It shows improvement from the pretest to the post-test,” Emond said.

Mary Reines can be reached at [email protected].

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