Affective computing and education

The arrival of digital technologies has had a vast impact, not only on how we live our lives, but also how we approach education. Computers started to be seen as educational tools, promising improvements and better results in the practice of learning. Nevertheless, according to Rosalind Picard, Seymour Papert and their colleges from MIT Labs, those developments were introduced into our lives through the cognitive approach without paying much attention to affect and its impact on learning.


Affect and emotion seem to be core components of our cognition; excluding them from the process of creating educational tools may deprive students from achieving even greater improvements in their learning. Affect and emotions are therefore central to design research. As stated by Professor Eva Hudlicka, the time when users had no involvement in the design process are long gone . On the contrary, today users are becoming a central part of the design process and are even referred to as integrated human-machine systems. However, in order to achieve such a symbiosis between human users and machines, it is necessary to address affect and emotion when designing educational tools. The approach that addresses users’ affect is called affective computing.


One of the drawbacks of developing affective technologies is the difficulty of sensing, measuring and recognising affect. Hudlicka believes that accurate interpretations of one’s affective state can be achieved by using self-reports and facial observations (2003, p.4). However, one study Affective Learning – Manifesto argues that self-reports are neither coherent nor reliable ways of affect recognition since affect should be measured exactly in the moment it happens. Nevertheless, Hudlicka recognises the weaknesses of self-reports and admits that in order for the study to be relevant it is necessary to use multiple research methods. The importance of the constant inclusion of the affective component when designing educational tools is arguable. Whereas, Picard, Papert and colleagues support categorically the concept of affect, Hudlicka believes that affective components are not always essential for the design, and can even become annoying for the users.


As far as addressing users’ affect is concerned, it seems to be difficult to find a proper balance between the affective and cognitive elements of designing educational tools. However, it is important to take them both into consideration, remembering that affect, emotion and cognition are the main components of education.


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