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  • Writer's pictureGarron Hillaire

Reflections from an open mind

Updated: Jan 30, 2018

Reflecting on a presentation from the first year in my PhD program as a third year PhD student.

Entering the third and final year of my program it is nice to step back and reflect on what I started out thinking and what I have achieved. It is fun to watch a talk I gave during my first year at the open university as it underscores the goals I had at the beginning of this process. With hindsight I can see what has remained the same and what has changed. Ideas from year one

"Thinking about the emotional intelligence in the design side as well as in the student experience side"

I can remember when I was invited to give a talk at the beginning of this program I had a very clear set of research questions in mind and a clear idea about how I would go about conducting this research. For example, I was excited to use the lab at the OU to explore the use of physiological measures. I had a clear goal of improving emotional measures in text and leveraging those measures to better understand the role of emotion in learning. Measuring Emotion

"I think that getting at good measurements of emotional content in written expression is going to be a very helpful tool in terms of improving learning environments"

Two years later I think that I have actually produced a measure that is a significant improvement on what I was able to do with existing sentiment analysis technology at the time of this talk. The outcome of this goal was the creation of a method to crowd source student perspectives on the emotional content from their own group work discussions to train a machine learning classifier to detect valence in comments. I will be submitting this work to a journal in the coming weeks. I have continued to use existing measures to explore applying sentiment analysis to the context of education. In fact, the methods I developed as a scoping study referenced in the Open Minds talk has turned into a paper I will be presenting at AERA 2018. The paper talks about the emotional phenomena of smiling on the inside. Schall et al (2016) identified the concept of internally feeling positive and behaving in more of a neutral manner as related to out performing peers and described this as 'smiling on the inside'. In our paper we illustrate how to use measures to predict out performing peers with a similar emotional signature in trace data. Read more about this work here Emotional Design

"If every single student had a negative high energy reaction to a group assignment, that might give you feedback as a designer"

During my studies I have maintained an element of emotional design throughout. I have conducted studies with emotional sentence frames to support emotional communication during group collaboration. It has provided a nice parallel condition. I can examine my data from the perspective of a control condition where there is no scaffolding for emotional communication and an experimental condition where I intervened with sentence framing. Given that my measurement work is on emotion detection in written communication, these two research conditions have been examined with sentiment analysis. The sentence frames make it easier to detect emotion as the students are explicitly talking about their emotions. I can see future research strands that build on both of these themes from my thesis. While I have not had the chance to work with OU staff on the topic of emotional design I am co-authoring a book on the topic with one of mentors David Rose. While David is a former teacher and I had the privilege to work with him for a few years at CAST, this is the first publication we will work on together. It is a great experience to work with him and I am extremely excited to get this book out. Physiological Measurement

"I can use the labs we have at the open university to do physiological measurement in conjunction with self-report and conversation analysis"

This will remain an element that I need to pursue after my PhD. While I may never use the labs at the OU I did capture some data that can be processed for physiological indicators of emotional response. I simply underestimated the level of effort it would take to establish a measure of emotion in text. Not only did it take a lot of work to get promising results, but it also took another tremendous amount of effort to evaluate and understand those promising results. Interviews

"An investigation may take six months. A quick interview, profile, a day" - Diane Sawyer

One things that was omitted from this talk that turned out to be rather important was conducting interviews with students. I only had the chance to interview 10 students. These interviews were about one hour for each student. The experience was fantastic and it did not take a lot of effort to immediately gain insights from the interviews. In validating my measure it was very helpful to talk with students and hear comments that were both encouraging and identifying weaknesses that I can address in future work. It will take a lot of time energy and effort to formalize the analysis from the interviews and report findings from the interviews, but the benefits to my work were immediate. References

  • Rienties, B., Aznar, A., & Hillaire, G. (2016) Are emotions driving better university courses? Open Minds Talks at the Open University Milton Keynes, UK slides | video

  • Schall, M., Martiny, S. E., Goetz, T., & Hall, N. C. (2016). Smiling on the Inside : The Social Benefits of Suppressing Positive Emotions in Outperformance Situations.

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