a presentation of the
IEEE Education Society



Visiting Scientist,
MIT Media Laboratory
Cambridge, Massachusetts USA

August 2005

other presentations available at the
Society's Distinguished Lecturer Program site

Disclaimer/Claimer: The opinions, comments, endorsements, and other such information provided here are not those of the IEEE Inc. or of the IEEE Education Society, they are solely the opinion of their author.


Introduction of the Guest Speaker—Dr. Barry Kort

Each question and response will be hyperlinked as that material is posted.

1. We understand the concept of cognition and I'm sure we have an understanding of the concept of learning, but it's the concept of affect may need some explanation. Perhaps it may be best if you told us how these three concepts relate?

2. Click here to go to Part 2.

3. Click here to go to Part 3.

4. Click here to go to Part 4.

5. Click here to go to Part 5.

6. Click here to go to Part 6.

Q/A 1. Click here to go to Q/A 1.

Q/A 2. Click here to go to Q/A 2.

Q/A 3. Click here to go to Q/A 3.

GC 1. Click here to go to General Comment #1.

CC 1. Click here for the Closing Comments.


Good day everyone, my name is Rob Reilly. I am the Chair of the IEEE Education Society's Chapters Committee. This committee is sponsoring this online Distinguished Lecturer Series. And, I'll be the moderator for this presentation.

I am glad to 'see' so many of you. Thank you for coming to this presentation, which is brought to you by the IEEE Education Society.

Today's topic is:


Our speaker is Dr. Barry Kort from the MIT Media Lab. His topic will be: Cognition, Affect and Learning. Dr. Kort received his Ph.D. in Systems Theory from Stanford University; for two decades he was a Distinguised Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Labs, later he was a Lead Engineer at the MITRE's Network Center in Bedford, Massachusetts USA, following this he was a Visiting Scientist at BBN Systems and Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA (working on Technology and Education). And, currently he is a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts USA where he is conducting NSF-supported research, which aims to develop an affect-sensitive cognitive machine (i.e., a computer that will recognize the emotional state of a user (e.g., frustration, confusion, meta-cognitive state) and adapt appropriately).

Barry will discuss the interplay of emotions and learning including:

  • Knowledge as Model Building
  • Role of Emotions in Learning
  • Storycraft and Drama Theory (which the IEEE Computer Society has designated as an an 'emerging technology')

This presentation will include several graphics to illustrate the talk. I will provide the URL for those graphics during the talk, which we have just placed online. For a preview of the presentation and the Powerpoint slides see:


If you have a question at any time please send it to me (reilly@media.mit.edu) and I'll pose it to Barry. There will be a general Question and Answer session at the completion of the presentation.

Again thank you for coming to the presentation; we shall begin momentarily.

-Rob- reilly@media.mit.edu


Barry, welcome. It is an honor to have you make this presentation. I am sure that everyone is ready to begin.

Thank you, Rob. It's a pleasure to join you and the members of the IEEE Education Society.

Barry, let me ask this:

1. We understand the concept of 'cognition' and I'm sure we have an understanding of the concept of 'learning', but it's the concept of 'affect' may need some explanation. Perhaps it may be best if you told us how these three concepts relate?

First of all, we use the term 'affect' to subsume the spectrum of affective emotional states and feelings that one can experience while engaged in the learning process. You can see a sampling of them on this slide...


Modeling emotional axes is far from a settled question in Psychology and Cognitive Science, but we've sought to identify those affective emotional states (and axes) that seem to be most relevant to the learning process -- both for voluntary learning (the intrepid learner) and for involuntary learning (the reluctant learner).

There is copious evidence that we all experience at least some emotions whilst engaged in the learning process. Our goal is to construct a coherent model of the interplay of emotions and learning.

Cognition -- using one's noodle to think and solve life's large and little problems -- is clearly a learned behavior. We learn from academic sources, from practical firsthand personal experience, from cautionary tales, stories and dramas, and (hopefully) from our disheartening, embarrassing, lamentable, and crushing failures.

In the slide cited above (Slide #5), you will notice that each emotional axis is divided into two halves -- a positive valence (pleasurable) half, and a negative valence (unpleasureable) half. But most activities will activate emotions on more than one such axis. And it's quite possible that we can experience an emotional tug-of-war, say between anxiety or dread on the one hand, and curiosity, anticipation or hopefulness on the other. That is to say, we are often obliged to mix the bitter with the sweet.

But we want to dig deeper into the interplay between emotions and learning. We want to go beyond poetic metaphors to a more comprehensive and scientific model relating emotions to cognition and learning.

And that's where we're headed. So put on your seat belts, because we are going on an emotional roller coaster ride into the Calculus of Emotions and Learning.

This is the second installment in our EdSoc Conversations on Cognition, Affect, and Learning.

Another correspondent, who teaches high school, told me that he occasionally shares parts of these theories with his students when they are feeling especially frustrated with their progress.

Of the many related theories, there is one that I should mention at this point...

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "Chick-Sent-Me-High") has a theory that he calls Flow Theory. Flow is the name of the emotional state opposite of Frustration. Flow is when you are gayly skipping down the 'Yellow Brick Road', neither bewildered and overloaded with more than you can handle, nor bored to tears with nothing much to sink your teeth into.

Here are some recent remarks from my correspondent who teaches high school...

Last year I employed Kort's Theory of Emotions and Learning to enlighten my students that their negative emotions were not a problem, simply a part of the spectrum of feelings any learner experiences at points along the avenue of learning. It makes a lot of sense and remarkably silences students who think their display of negativity will cause me to change the course of what I am trying to teach.

I also employed, unknowingly, Mihaly ChickSentMeHigh's Flow Theory. I love it! One rap that I lay on my students relates directly to this theory. I ask if anyone has ever gotten so involved in doing something that they lose track of time and have this feeling that they are pretty smart and very confident that they know what they are doing and look forward to learning more about the activity that has fully engaged thier senses. Everyone acknowledges that this has happened. It is not difficult to impress them with the desireability of achieving this state as often as possible in life. Of course I would like to help turn on this experience right now in this classroom, if for no other reason than it will make the day go faster and you will find yourself outahere sooner than you expected. This is not a surprising methodology for this vacationing high school teacher who lists among his favorite resources Neil Postman's 'Teaching As a Subversive Activity'.

Kort's Theory of Emotions and Learning carefully and accurately applies truthful descriptions to the emotions any learner feels along various emotional-cognitive continuums. And yes! kids and adults are wrongly being taught today that painful emotions are somehow bad and to be avoided at all costs. Bad feelings are very real and valuable and if analyzed and understood they promote growth and understanding. Certainly a positive emotional state is desirable, but devaluing the negative makes us less capable of appreciating the genuinely positive.

I disagree with the suggestion that recognizing when one is in the flow state brings on its disippation. When I am in the flow state I recognize it and enjoy it, recognizing that it is indeed a desirable state. Usually I find myself in this state for good reasons that I count as blessings when I analyze the factors which have put me in the state.

Likewise, when feeling out of the flow state, I appeciate the factors which have yielded that state, however unpleasant. At this point I will analyze strategies I can use to get me out of this state, but not all strategies will get me back into the flow. Some will just make me feel better. Other times I just have to feel out of it without wallowing in that state (which leads to that miserable state of self-pity).

With regard to the comment above about Neil Postman's notion of teaching as a 'subversive activity', one of the current frontiers on the Theory of Emotions and Learning focuses on Drama Theory and strategies for relating to arrested learners who demonstrate pathological resistance to the learning process. This pathological resistance is best described by Maggie Martinez in her model of Learning Orientations. Here is a page where you can read her description of The Resistant (or Reluctant) Learner:


I suspect this learning resistance might be mediated by strong negative emotions, such as feeling one is defeated if they admit to having learned something from a 'rival' with whom they have established an antagonistic relationship.

Rob tells me that somewhere in the literature is a book title that says "Children Don't Learn From Teachers They Don't Like."

A lot of children don't like their teachers, finding them insufferable authority figures with way too much power and way too little empathy.

So I'd be curious to learn more about how we might transform the education process into something more 'subversive' that solves this conundrum.

My correspondent (the high school teacher), continues...

So the initial strategy is avoid an antagonistic relationship. Several strategies go into doing this. First is making a careful examination of motives for being in school. Often it is simply compulsory. Still, there are ways out if you really don't want to be here. Second, mostly students want a diploma. Why? Because in most cases they always assumed they would get one. A right of passage thing. Third, expectations...etc. etc. All presented in a friendly way properly balancing the humor and the gravity, and avoiding sarcasm because that often sets one into antagonism.

I am very interested in your theories. In the event where serious emotionality upsets the learner's apple cart, I find it a handy resource to pull out your PowerPoint slides to reinforce the notion that learning is still taking place, even though it is causing some negative feelings. There is a positive side to this situation, and if you keep working on it, you will eventually find yourself on the positive side. Very helpful. In fact I have integrated those lessons into a lesson on learning about the learning process. Meta-cognition strategies will often defuse situations because learners don't feel you are punishing them for their problems.

One of the more useful slides to pull out when a student is caught in the emotional roller coaster ride is this one...


In that slide, we can see the ups and down of the rollicking learning curve. We call this 'Non-Monotonic Learning' to remind ourselves that sometimes we acquire erroneous beliefs and misconceptions which we eventually have to discard. In that slide, I've superimposed a 'Frowny Face Scowl' and a 'Happy Face Smile' to point out where the emotional states are variously negative valence (unhappy) and positive valence (happy).

Later on, we'll dig a little deeper into the specific emotions that typically arise in these alternating phases. What I hope our readers can see from this slide is that there is some mathematics here. We are dividing the roller-coaster learning curve into sections where the curvature is variously concave (downward-turning) or convex (upward-turning). In the Calculus, this corresponds to the sign of the Second Derivative. A curve is turning downward when the Second Derivative is negative; a curve is turning upward when the Second Derivative is positive. We'll return to this observation in a day or two.

I am not sure how subversive I am in my role as teacher. I generally don't let kids get me upset, although sometimes I act as if I am, and I suppose I am being a bit subversive then. But generally, taking a genuine interest in each learner's success in all aspects of the school program, and some aspects of their outside life they are willing to share, and sharing something of my personal life, interests, frustrations and successes generally goes into maintaining a healthy climate for achievement. Additionally, many reveal in writing what they won't say in speaking. One of my biggest frustrations is getting kids to "go public" or "publish" some of their quality writing. There is considerable reluctance to take that step.

And this is why we might want to make more use of drama, storycraft, theater, and the Bardic Arts. Sometimes it's easier to translate a personal story to fictional characters, to gain a little distance and perspective. Allegories and parables often work where biographical anecdotes are too awkward or embarrassing to disclose.

Let me end today's installment with a bonus slide, not in the PowerPoint file. This one is yet another view of the spectrum of emotions and responses that one can embrace when faced with a challenging situation.

I call it the Phreaking Spectrum...


In case it's not clear what my politics are, I generally favor learning and mastering responses that progress to ever higher levels of consciousness and functionality. But I also note that different responses tend to be fueled by different emotions (and their corresponding neuropeptides). The more we understand these processes, the better we can learn to manage them mindfully and wisely.

This is the third installment in our EdSoc Conversations on Cognition, Affect, and Learning.

Time now to begin digging into the meat of the theory, as found in the PowerPoint slides at:


The outline of the talk is found on the second slide:


Today we will visit the first three bullets in that outline.

Learning is defined as the acquisition of knowledge. But what, exactly, is 'knowledge'?

For our purposes, we will adopt a scientific notion of knowledge as Concepts, Mental Models, Theories, Beliefs, Hypotheses, etc.

That is, we intend to reckon how our Belief Systems evolve and become increasingly refined, sophisticated, accurate, and insightful.

We all know from direct experience that our learning is not error-free. We adopt misconceptions and erroneous beliefs, and struggle with them for a time before diagnosing and correcting our mistaken beliefs.

While we can easily forget knowledge, we sometimes are obliged to discard beliefs that we have discovered in the fullness of time to be so much baloney. Thus our store of knowledge (or reliable beliefs) can rise and fall over time.

Sometimes the hills and valleys of the learning curve are gentle rolling slopes, and sometimes there are precipitous cliffs. We all long for those 'Eureka' moments where everything suddenly becomes crystal clear. And we dread those belief-shattering passages where reality rears its ugly head and reveals to us that our cherished bright ideas are so much rubbish.

The roller coaster ride travels through any number of emotional states along the way -- curiosity, fascination, surprise, anxiety, confusion, bewilderment, frustration, anguish, chagrin, hope, perplexity, elation, satisfaction, and confidence. Part of the story is just coming up with a comprehensive list of words to name all these affective emotional states.

In Slides #4 and #5 we sort these emotions into a half dozen axes...



Those of you who have some background in math will appreciate where we are going with this model, because we are going to analogize the ups and downs of the 'Learning Curve' to the properties of a generic mathematical function that exhibits a similar roller-coaster shape.

If you study the motion of a real roller-coaster, you find that you need to keep track of four basic parameters -- Time, Distance (or Position), Velocity, and Acceleration. These four parameters are not independent. Velocity is the Time-Derivative of Position, and Acceleration is the Time-Derivative of Velocity.

Before we can go on with our Theory of Emotions and Learning, we need to remind ourselves of the relationship between Time, Distance, Velocity, and Acceleration in the trajectory of a moving object.

When I give this talk in person, I use a little puppet figure -- Montana Mouse -- to illustrate simple Galilean Motion, and review the elementary model of motion, as suggested by Galileo.

Here is a (still) photo of Montana Mouse...


In the Calculus, when we model simple motion, we can construct a Phase Plane Diagram, in which Velocity is plotted against Acceleration. If you add Distance as a third axis, perpendicular to the Phase Plane, you get a three-dimensional Phase Space Model of motion, parametric in time.

Those readers who have some grounding in Calculus or Physics or Engineering may recall using Phase Plane Diagrams or Phase Space Diagrams once upon a time.

For everyone else, just bear with us, as this diagram will still be helpful, even without a full appreciation of the underlying math.

Tomorrow, we will spend some time unpacking the Phase Plane Diagram of Slide #8, and the hills and valleys of Slide #9.

In the meantime, try to become comfortable with reckoning a journey in terms of parameters like Time, Distance, Velocity, and Acceleration, because we are going to analogize those to their corresponding elements in the Theory of Emotions and Learning.

When you drive home tonight or back to work in the morning, pay attention to Time, Distance, Velocity and Acceleration.

Tomorrow we'll talk more about the similar relationship between Time, Knowlege, Learning, and Emotions.

This is the fourth installment in our EdSoc Conversations on Cognition, Affect, and Learning.

Today we will work on the technically most difficult and challenging part of the Theory of Emotions and Learning -- the mathematical analogy that undergirds the Phase Plane Diagram found in Slide #8:


Let's begin by reviewing our analagy between a Learning Journey and an ordinary journey.

In ordinary Galilean motion, we typically include the following terms in our mathematical model of motion:

Time, Distance, Velocity, and Acceleration.

When Newton invented the Calculus to systematize the study of motion, he also got around to naming the next term after Acceleration. Newton called it Jerk. I kid you not. When your car lurches, that's called Jerk in the Newtonian Calculus.

So now, let's set up our proposed analogy between ordinary motion and a learning journey...



is to




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is to




is to




is to


Now in the Phase Plane Diagram for Ordinary Motion, we plot Velocity (on the vertical axis) against Acceleration (on the horizontal axis).

The Phase Plane divides everything into Four Quadrants. In Quadrant I (the upper right quadrant), Acceleration is Positive (you have your pedal to the metal), and that means your Velocity is Forward Motion and Increasing. In Quadrant I, the Trajectory through the Phase Plane is Upwards.

In Quadrant II (the upper left quadrant), you have your foot on the brakes (or retro rockets). That means you are slowing down your forward motion. The Trajectory through Quadrant II is Downwards.

In Quadrant III (the lower left quadrant), you are firing your braking thrusters so intensely, you are now beginning to gain speed moving backwards. The Trajectory through Quadrant III is still downwards.

In Quadrant IV (the lower right quadrant), you once again turn on your forward thrusters, which arrest your backward motion. The Trajectory through Quadrant IV is now upwards again.

Thus you cycle around the Phase Plane in a characteristic trajectory as you variously accelerate positively or negatively.

Does your head hurt yet from all this mathematical thinking? Imagine how Galileo and Newton must have felt working it all out for the very first time since Zeno originally fired his mind-boggling arrow and threw down the gauntlet.

But I digress.

Back to our analogy...

Recall that we analogized Velocity to Learning and Acceleration to Emotions. So now we just plug in those labels into our conventional Newtonian/Galilean Phase Plane Diagram. And that's how we arrive at Slide #8.

In Quadrant I, we have positive valence emotions (like curiosity) as we investigate, explore, and begin to build our initial, tentative, mental models. Gosh this part is fun!

Eventually we have enough new ideas in our heads to be able to anticipate and make predictions about how things work. But wait! What's this? Do mine eyes deceive me? I just saw something surprising and unexpected, something I didn't predict. Whazzat?

Zat is Quadrant II. Now we are really confused. We need to diagnose the discrepancy between our jejune beliefs and simple-minded expectations and what's really happening out there in that subtle and perplexing world.

Suppose we've really blown it. Suppose we've adopted some cockamamie theory like 'the world is flat' or 'the rival gang down the street has a huge stockpile of secret weapons hidden in the dumpster behind the Burger King'.

Trying to navigate the world with an error-ridden map can be downright frustrating and exasperating. Arrgggh!

Eventually we're going to have to diagnose, admit, and discard such erroneous beliefs. With chagrin in our bosom and embarrassment on our faces, we move along to Quadrant III and pitch the bogonic beliefs.

Lemme tellya, this is the Dark Tea Time of the Soul. No one ever wants to admit they are traversing the Pits of Quadrant III. Oy vey.

But lo! There is Hope. It's over there ---> in Quadrant IV.

And, so with our indomitable faith, determination, and steely grit, we get over our humiliating mistakes and hunker down to fresh research.

Einstein said, "If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn't call it Research."

Research is what I do when I don't know what I'm doing.

I do a lot of research.

Welcome to Quadrant IV.

And what do we find after a quarter century of research?

We find the very slide we are studying -- the Phase Plane Diagram of the Learning Journey of the Intrepid Researcher.

Or to quote our old friend, Archimedes, "Eureka! We have found it!"

Which brings us home to Quadrant I -- the Joy of Discovery Learning.

Round and round we cycle, time and again, climbing the arduous learning curve depicted in Slide #9 -- the roller-coaster of life's learning journey.


Each time around the loop, we have a net gain in total cumulative knowledge. If you add the Knowledge Axis, perpendicular to the Phase Plane of Emotions and Learning, our Trajectory looks something like the Helix of Slide #10...


"Onward and upward!" says Professior Excelsior.

What a wild ride, eh?

This would be a good time for anyone who remains confused, bamboozled, or bewildered to shoot me a question or comment for further discussion in the days ahead.

And if there's anyone out there with the tools of Mathematica or Maple or MacroMedia Flash who would like to construct an animation of the Phase Space Model, now is your chance to become a world famous techno-artist.

Go for it! Become a hero and a mensch!

Otherwise, tomorrow we'll press ahead to the next chapter, StoryCraft.


The Process of Enlightenment Works in Mysterious Plays.

This is the fifth installment in our EdSoc Conversations on Cognition, Affect, and Learning.

Today we turn to the Bardic Arts — StoryCraft.

Throughout most of human history, cultural knowledge was passed from one generation to the next by telling stories. It's only recently that we invented the classroom model of education. And, sadly, we lost much of the power of story when we invented the classroom instruction model.

Moderator's note: a few years ago the IEEE Computer Society established a committee to identify "Emerging Technologies." And when their work was completed, "storytelling" was on their list.

This is especially true in science and math, where storycraft is almost entirely unheard of.

So let's fix that. Let's gin up a Theory of StoryCraft, and look at how we might reclaim the Bardic Arts as an educational vehicle.

Now the first thing we're going to need in a story is some Characters.

What's a Character? It's a highly simplified model of a human being.

So let's see what might go into a basic Character Model for a storybook character. Take a look now, at Slide #14...


The explanation that goes along with that slide is found at this supplementary URL on Drama Theory...


You will note that I've added one extra component to the Character Model that doesn't appear in Slide #14 -- 'Issues'.

Please take a few minutes to read the discussion in that last URL (Drama Theory), as I don't propose to replay it here.

Slide #15, the Vexagon Diagram, gives Tom Clancy's Theorem...


The (Vector) Sum of All Fears = Zero.

What this means is that in order for the story to have dramatic continuity, each action by some character has to be an emotion-driven reaction to some preceding action by an antagonist, and the reaction has to provoke a downstream response from one of the other characters.

Now if we go back to Slide #13...


...we can now see how the Bardic Arts emerge. Each scene in the story is an anecdote in the context of the story so far. A coherent collection of anecdotes makes a story.

And that's what's been missing in traditional classroom education in subjects like Science and Math, which concentrate on just part of the loop in Slide #13. Look at the poverty of Slide #12...


We have Data (which is the answer to a question no one asked).

We have Information (which is a motley collection of Question/Answer Pairs).

And we have Knowledge, which is an integration of such Question/Answer Pairs into a Fabric of Knowledge, much like assembling a Jigsaw Puzzle.

But what's missing is Wisdom and Story. To get from Knowledge to Wisdom, we have to fold in a Value System. But that's just a fancy name for Dreads and Desires. As soon as you have diverse characters with competing and conflicting Dreads and Desires, you have Drama.

And that's what we need to recognize and reckon -- the Function of Drama in the Learning Process. It's not just Education. It's Edutainment, too.

Yesterday we talked about Time, Knowledge, Learning, Emotions, and Shock. In a dramatic story, there are climactic moments where emotions run high. In your classic Hero/Goat Drama, the Hero is the character whose Beliefs are revealed to be accurate. The Hero has a Triumphant Belief-Crystalizing Moment. And the Goat has a Humiliating Belief-Shattering Moment ("Curses, foiled again!").

Most of the time, in our pedestrian studies, it's not such high drama. But the dramatic elements are there, perhaps lurking below radar. And while we don't have to overdramatize the learning journey, it wouldn't hurt to spice it up a tad, just to immerse ourselves in a bit of playful drama as we slog through the tedium of our studies.

If anyone has any questions or comments, this is another good juncture to feed them back to Rob or me.

We'll spend a day or two on the remaining slides from the PowerPoint set, and then wrap it up by the weekend, after which we can have as much open discussion and dialogue as people can stand.


The Process of Enlightenment Works In Mysterious Plays


This is the sixth installment in our EdSoc Conversations on Cognition, Affect, and Learning.

Some of today's material is only loosely connected to the main Theory of Emotions and Learning, but we don't seem to be in any rush to wrap this up, so let's pause to reckon it.

The material on the Multiple Interlinked Economies is summarized on Slide #17...


An Economy is defined as the flow of some commodity within a system.

Mostly we think of the Material Economy -- the flow of Goods and Services, in exchange for little pieces of green paper. Those of you who live in other countries than the USA might have more colorful currencies than we do. Anyway, we can measure and tally the flow, and count the 'chits' that are in flux.

Today, we also need to consider the Information and Attention Economies. I can look at my web server log and note that about 16 people bothered to look at the photo of Montana Mouse from Monday's installment. We can measure Information and Attention in terms of 'bits' and 'hits'. (There were 10383 bits in that photo of Montana Mouse.)

The high end of the Information and Attention Economies are found in the Entertainment and Drama Economies. We can measure them in 'skits' and 'fits' I suppose. (Bart Simpson might say, "Don't have a cow, man!")

The next pair of economies that we consider are the Emotions and Learning Economies. This is the educational part of Edutainment. Perhaps we can measure them in 'snits' and 'wits'.

And at the high end of the Emotions and Learning Economies we find the Spiritual Economy, where we might have those rare moments of insight that are divinely inspired. Let's call that 'grits'.

As suggested by the next slide...


...the 'Body Politic' juggles all these interlinked economies much like fiddling with a 'slinky'. Flows and fluctuations in any one econonmy induce fluctuations and flows in the adjacent economies, and the effects ripple on down the line, ultimately linking the Material Economy on the one hand (gotta be the sinister left hand) to the Spiritual Economy on the other hand (the right hand of God, I suppose).

The point of this model is that if one is going to reckon any one economy (say Emotions and Learning), one is obliged to reckon the entire chain of interlinked economies in which the one we most care about is embedded. Everything is connected to everything else.

Finally, let's look at the last slide, on Socratic Dialogues ...


Socrates came up with a remarkably powerful technique for structuring a dialogue that facilitates learning. It's possible to work out a general template for a Socratic Dialogue by cataloguing the kinds of questions one might ask at different junctures in a conversation in the style of Socrates. You can find several such templates at this URL...


I occasionally use these templates to structure a dialogue when I want to diagnose a particularly difficult learning passage.

This completes the contents of the PowerPoint slides. You can find previously published conference papers with most of this material at these two repositories:



The SITE-2004 paper, "The Science Behind the Art of Teaching Science: Emotional State and Learning" is the most recent one and is available in PDF format here:


An older article which appeared in the October 2002 special issue of the IEEE Journal of International Forum of Educational Technology & Society (IFETS) and IEEE Learning Technology Task Force is entitled "Theories for Deep Change in Affect-Sensitive Cognitive Machines: A Constructivist Model" and is available in HTML format here:


At this point, I'd like to invite people to offer comments or questions, or launch into an open discussion on the topic of Cognition, Affect, and Learning.


The Process of Enlightenment Works In Mysterious Plays.


This is Question/Comment is from Kay Purcell.

One set of your proposed Multiple Linked Economies is the set of Entertainment and Drama Economies. In the last presentation you covered Storycraft and the Drama aspect. Today I received a news letter from ASEE that included this article:

Breeding evil? - A video gaming furor has erupted, fueled by a popular and notoriously violent cops-and-robbers game, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas", that has been found to contain hidden sex scenes. An article in the August 6th The Economist explores the question of whether such video games are bad for people, or indeed may be positively good. Critics are concerned that video game playing is addictive, and that the games encourage violence. Neither problem seems to be significant, according to research. And good games can be good for players, rather than bad, when developed as educational tools and simulations. The article concludes that the controversy over gaming is mostly the consequence of a generational divide - disagreement between old and young over new forms of media. (See http://www.economist.com ) Has anyone given any thought to packaging the course content as a video game where the learner proceeds through the levels by mastering various aspects of the course content?

Kay M Purcell
Southern Illinois University
Electrical and Computer Engineering, Emeritus
1012 South Oakland Avenue
Carbondale IL 62901-2559
(email) , , ,

(Voice) 618-529-2873; (Fax) 603-963-0563
(Cell) 618-559-6190, (plain text messages only)

Barry Kort's response begins here

Over the years there have been any number of projects to package educational material in the format of computer games. Puzzle-adventure games like Myst represent the gold standard of this genre. Before Myst, Riven, and the newer sequels, Rand and Robin Miller developed educational games in HyperCard (Cosmic Osmo and The Manhole). See this article in WikiPedia:


See also this article about the Rand Brothers from WiReD Magazine:


Cliff Johnson is another gifted creator of puzzle-adventure games. His first three games (Fools' Errand, At the Carnival, and 3 in Three) are now available for free download from his web site:


There are also the many simulation titles from Maxis (SimCity, SimAnt, SimSafari, and newer sequels). See this article on simulation games in WikiPedia:


Most educational games don't rise to the remarkable standards set by the above authors, but the genre is at least a niche market. At the Cahners Computer Place at the Boston Museum of Science, a selection of such educational computer games has long been available to visitors. Here is a web page listing some of their favorite selections:


I'd love to see a lot more such creativity find its way into our educational mainstream.


This is Question/Comment is from Kay Purcell.

This discussion covers characters and a bit about plot development. There is also the suggestion that perhaps story craft should be incorporated into science and engineering education. However, it is not clear exactly how you envision this; could you be more specific? For instance, do you mean (1) the personification of the laws, theories, quantities, and components used in the topic for the course? (2) the incorporation of personal interest, historical stories about the folks who did the research, made discoveries, and formulated the theories,? (3) the development of movies, TV series, etc. similar to the popular doctor, lawyer, police shows, only featuring scientists and engineers doing real science and engineering? or (4) something else entirely?

--Kay M Purcell

Barry Kort's response begins here

I mean all of those ideas and more. Enfleshing abstract concepts (such as are found in scientific theories) as cartoon characters is a tried and true storytelling technique. Most people relate better to a storybook character than to an abstract concept defined within a mathematically structured system model. Retelling the historical accounts of famous discoveries also helps to establish scientists and researchers as role models. I suppose most people know the story of Archimedes running naked down the street shouting "Eureka!" or Galileo dropping cannon balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or Newton getting conked on the head by a falling apple. There are many good stories of how genius manifests itself. James Gleick wrote a terrific account of Richard Feynman; James Burke produced an outstanding series on public television ("Connections" and "The Day the Universe Changed"). CBS aired a dramatic series called "Numb3rs" which featured a math genius who helped his brother (an FBI agent) solve perplexing crimes. Embedding the 'learning vitamins' within the vehicle of a compelling story, drama, cartoon, or adventure puzzle-quest is an increasingly essential tool in the educator's arsenal.

We have the technology. We need to develop the art, craft, and practice of storymaking as a vehicle for science and math education.


The Process of Enlightenment Works In Mysterious Plays


This is Question/Comment is from Kay Purcell.

I'd love to see a lot more such creativity find its way into our educational mainstream.

Somehow, I think it may require more than creativity. The art of the design and implementation of computer games requires a set of skills with a very steep learning curve. This set of skills is not usually possessed by folks who have spent their time acquiring the knowledge and skills that now needs to be taught in science and engineering. Science/engineering learning games on the university level will probably require collaboration between a game creator that knows enough science/engineering to be able to communicate with a scientist/engineer with the creativity to see the game possibilities.

How practicable would that be?


Barry Kort's response begins here

I think we are long overdue for setting up those collaborations, bringing together technicians and artists.

At the MIT Media Lab, there has been such a collaboration underway for many years. It takes a team with multiple and diverse talents to design, construct, and package a module that blends technical content with story/game elements to create the next generation of edutainment with some serious learning vitamins in the soup.

It won't be easy, but I daresay it will be fun.


The Process of Enlightenment Works In Mysterious Plays


This is Question/Comment is from Rebecca Grasser rgrasser@ameritech.net

Just FYI, such a collaboration does exist ... at the University of North Texas. It's a different scale, I suspect than MIT. See, for example,

Parberry, I., Roden, T., and Kazemzadeh, M. B. 2005. Experience with an industry-driven capstone course on game programming: extended abstract. In Proceedings of the 36th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (St. Louis, Missouri, USA, February 23 - 27, 2005). SIGCSE '05. ACM Press, New York, NY, 91-95.

The talk that was given at SIGCSE got a lot of people excited - it was really an enjoyable presentation. Maybe there will be a fallout (in a good sort of way) in the next few years.

Perhaps some advice could be given for smaller (less funded, fewer experts) programs?

This has been a great series so far. Thanks.

Barry Kort's reply begins here:

In various web forums where groups of people chat, we've played around with improvisational theater, much like children who engage in informal play acting. Somebody sets up a scene and we just act it out, like Our Town, with no more props than some purple prose and an occasional embedded picture.

I call this kind of silly comic opera 'Dilbert & Sullivan' because it blends cartoonery with other forms of entertainment. It's easy to adapt song lyrics from well-known genres, including embedded MIDI. Often, it's just zany and silly. But it provides a vehicle for thinking about characters and stories, and just having a few laughs while learning some basic storymaking skills. Eventually one learns to weave in some serious 'learning vitamins'. But at first, we just want to gain some comfort with creative story-telling as a genre.


as there appears to be no further comments or questions for the speaker, Rob Reilly wrote:

Thank you for attending this presentation. We are especially grateful to Dr. Barry Kort from the MIT Media Lab for sharing his thoughts.

Since there are no questions/comments from audience. I'm going to ask Barry if he has any closing thoughts before we adjourn?

-Rob- reilly@media.mit.edu

Barry Kort replied:

Thanks, Rob. And thanks to all the members of the IEEE Education Society who subscribed to and participated in this conversation.

I hope you have gained some useful insights and perspective on the role of emotions in learning, and that you will be able to make effective use of these ideas and models.

Again, thank you all for your interest and attention.

Barry Kort, Ph.D.
Visiting Scientist
Affective Computing Research Group
MIT Media Lab