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Meet the Team: March Patikorn

May 23, 2019

March is the senior PhD student in the ASSISTments lab! March is passionate about machine learning and AI, and serves as a supervisor to his fellow PhD students. Read more about March below!

What are your research interests?

My interests are in machine learning and AI, but I am more interested in the operations and methodological side of things. When I look at certain models, my mind will ask, what can I do to make it better? I like to think beyond fine-tuning the numbers. Specifically, what if I add this part from model A to model B? I also have been wanting to pick up deep learning for a long time.

Why did you join the ASSISTments lab?

I joined the ASSISTments lab because I am fascinated by how students learn. In Thailand, I went to a huge high school that had approximately 5,000 students.

I was always that guy that kids would come to and say, hey can you teach me math? That experience really sparked my interest in teaching and learning. Before becoming a part of the lab, I realized that learning sciences are real fields that are important Education is also a real field, so working at ASSISTments is a nice combination of what I learn in class and how I can put it to good use.

How have incorporated different methods in your own teaching experiences?

It depends on the context. During my undergrad years, I would visit my high school every summer to catch up with my homeroom teacher. On Fridays, the school would hold special classes for honors students. Knowing my background in math, my homeroom teacher invited me to start teaching the special classes. The first one I taught went horribly! It was so unstructured. I learned that teaching is so hard; you can't just have a bunch of material and make it work. You actually have to have structure he class so there is a flow. Additionally, you need to check in with your students to make sure they are understanding the material.

Thai students are not like Americans, who will speak up when they have a question. Thai students will just sit in silence. They are trying to find someone brave enough to ask for it to be repeated. I know that I need to take greater care to make sure half the room hadn’t completely zoned out.

Later, I was a TA in undergrad for a semester. For that smaller group, my role was more of a tutor than a teacher. When students visited office hours, it is with specific questions. The challenge was to understand the current state of their knowledge and try to fill in the gaps. How can I phrase things in a way that students will understand?

For example, there was one student student who was a math major. There was a particular concept in computer science that he just couldn’t get. I spent 15 minutes trying to explain it before it occurred to me to ask him, what is your major? He answered math. I reworked the example to connect it to math concepts, and he was able to grasp the computer science concept immediately.

How do you think tech can best be used to improve education?

Honestly, I agree with Dr. Heffernan and the philosophy of ASSISTments. Big edtech companies are working hard to make automated learning systems such as ALEKS and Khan Academy. I think that these systems work really well for higher ed students, people who already work, or just people who want to go at their own pace and create their own structure.

For K-12 education and even parts of college, I think it is super important to have a human in the room who is monitoring student activity. I don't think any automated system can replace the teacher.

The goal of ASSISTments is to let teachers do what teachers do best, and let tech do what tech does bests. What teachers do best is connecting to students as human beings, figuring out who knows what, and pushing their students to the maximum of their potential. On the other hand, tech is good at crunching numbers. It’s great for automatic grading. I think it is important to think of tech as a tool that can be used to help teachers teach better.

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