From the Field

Research Notes: A Talk Tracker Encourages Students to Verbalize Their Thinking

For even the most experienced educators, getting students engaged and talking can be a challenge. Whether students are naturally introverted, don’t understand the material, or are unwilling to engage for other reasons, their hesitation can hold back their learning. Researchers Dorottya Demszky and Rose Wang from Stanford University, along with Sean Geraghty and Carol Yu from the tutoring company CueMath, investigated a tech innovation intended to nudge students and their tutors to increase student talk during tutoring.

Demszky et al. studied the effects of TalkMeter, a computer program that tracked the dialogue and speaking times between CueMath tutors and students. The meter would appear twice during a tutoring session (every 20 minutes) and show what percentage of the talking had been done by the student versus the tutor. The authors randomly assigned the tutors into three different groups: a control group, a tutor-facing group where only the tutor could see the TalkMeter, and a student-facing group where both the tutor and the student could see the meter.

The authors found that TalkMeter increased the share of student talk in both treatment groups by 13 to 14 percent. In the tutor-facing group, tutors spoke less, but in the student-facing group, students spoke more and expressed more mathematical thinking. While the tutor-facing group did not exhibit increased student reasoning, the student-facing group showed moderate increases in student reasoning and use of unique math terms, by 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Both interventions showed some shifting of cognitive work from the tutor to the student. But when both the tutor and the student could see the TalkMeter, students spoke more, used more math terms, and provided more frequent explanations of what they were doing. In response, tutors asked them better questions and more frequently built on what the students had said. Although both ways of using TalkMeter created some level of zero-sum tradeoffs–when students used more math terms, tutors used fewer–when both parties could see the TalkMeter, the increase in student reasoning appears to create a net positive effect because it elicits better questions and uptake on student ideas from the tutors.

These findings suggest that educators can use tools that track student engagement not just to increase the amount of student talk, but to create better-quality conversations that elicit deeper thinking and reasoning from students.

Does Feedback on Talk Time Increase Student Engagement? Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial on a Math Tutoring Platform

Dorottya Demszky, Rose Wang, Sean Geraghty, and Carol Yu

December 2023