Public Release: 

Temple University professor's innovation provides "personalized" tutoring to electrical engineering students

Temple University

In the not-too-distant future, engineering students studying circuits, especially those majoring in electrical engineering, will be able to receive "personalized" tutoring via the Web or a CD-ROM, thanks to an intelligent tutoring system developed by Temple University electrical engineering professor Brian P. Butz.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently awarded Butz a three-year, $400,000 grant to implement his intelligent tutoring system into four separate courses--Circuits I and II for electrical engineering students, and Introduction to Circuits and Introduction to Devices for engineering students that are non-electrical engineering majors.

Students supplementing classroom learning with computer tutorials is nothing new. But over the past two years, with funding from the NSF, Butz has devised a computer-based tutorial program that determines what a student does and does not know, and then creates an individualized, or "personalized," program of study for that student.

As Butz explains, "The program senses the direction a student is taking through the interactive material, detects logical flaws the student is making and provides the student with focused tutoring.

"This will be especially helpful for students in the introductory classes, since students who do not quickly master basic skills are sometimes left behind, and become passive observers of material they do not understand."

His initial goal, says Butz, was to create a compelling multimedia program incorporating film clips, audio, text and graphics to provide supplemental instruction for students in his introductory electrical engineering class.

Computer modules have come a long way from the right-or-wrong "canned remedial responses" of the past, he says. Current programs have more explicit knowledge of the subject matter being taught and can give expanded explanations to the user. His innovation continues this progress by introducing an "expert system" to create an "interactive multimedia intelligent tutoring system" or IMITS.

The expert system monitors and records the student¹s every interaction with the program (selection of the answer, change of selection, computation, and so on). Once it has gathered enough information about the student's learning patterns, it modifies its questions to focus on what the student understands least.

The program, which was used by some of the students in Butz¹s class, also provides immediate feedback on simulation projects, such as repairing a defibrillator (a medical device designed to emit an electrical charge to revive the heart). The student learns whether he or she has completed the assignment correctly through a film clip that shows the "patient" being revived, or a sheet grimly drawn over his face.

The performance of students who used IMITS, as well as student feedback, is assisting Butz in revising the software. "We have tested it in class to find out what we have to modify," says Butz, "and now that we have a pretty good idea of what students want, it¹s a matter of sitting down and continuing the development of the software."

One new component to be incorporated into the software program is the "virtual electrical laboratory," which replicates actual lab conditions. Butz created the "virtual electrical laboratory" as a spin-off of the original IMITS project to assist disabled students. The new software program will combine the "virtual lab" with a "virtual office" in which to work, enabling students to conduct hands-on research without leaving their computer terminals.

Butz expects the software program to be ready for beta testing at approximately 10 colleges, universities and community colleges by September 2002, and the software to be distributed nationally in 2003.


To try a demonstration of IMITS, visit the Web at For more information or to speak with Dr. Brian Butz, contact the Office of News and Media Relations at 215-204-7476.

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