The Sixth Sense Effect


R: I threatened last week that this week's discussion would be shorter. Actually, the discussions over the next three weeks are going to be shorter, as we enter the "movie" phase of our talks about learning objects.

C: Movies? And shorter meetings? Now you're talking!

O: I have to admit to being a big fan of movies.

S: Me too!

V: (Unbelievingly) You too, S?

S: Sure!

D: When do you have time to watch movies? Aren't you in one standards meeting or another pretty much all day, every day of the year?

S: You're forgetting all the travel - I watch a *lot* of movies on airplanes, DVDs on my laptop, etc.

D: Of course.

R: If we could pull back from S's personal entertainment habits, I need to clarify my opening statement. Our discussions will, in fact, be shorter, but our meetings will be longer - because we're going to be watching movies as part of our discussion.

C: Right on!

O: You're really on one these last few weeks, C. Have you changed medication?


R: Now you're getting a little personal, O. The movie we're going to watch tonight is The Sixth Sense .

O: Oh, I hated that movie!

C: (Under his breath) Now who's on one...

R: O, please don't say why you hated the movie just yet. Who all has seen the movie?

(S, O, and V raise their hands)

R: That's fine. Let's not spoil the ending for the others. I've taken the liberty of bringing some popcorn...

D: (Cutting in) I knew I smelled some popcorn!

R: (Continuing) So you're welcome to have some, or not. Any questions before I start the film?

D: Yea. Isn't there something specific we're supposed to watch for? There always has been whenever I've watched a movie in another class.

R: (With a grin) No, no, D. You just to watch the movie, pay attention, and try to follow the story. Anything else?

V: Are we really about to spend almost two hours watching a movie? Couldn't we have done this before we came?

R: Only half of you would have. This way we can share the experience and have it fresh in our minds for the rest of our discussion. Ok. I'll turn it on then.

(R turns on the movie, and the group passes 107 minutes of movie watching, interspersed with a variety of clever commentary about the quality of acting in the film, followed by a 10 minute bathroom break)

[To the reader: Please stop here and do not continue until after watching the movie. Yes. Really.]

R: So. Comments?

C: But how could he have been dead the whole time? I mean... he interacted with all those people... he did all those things...

D: I assume that a second watching will prove that it was all trickery and that the end may even be plausible if you know it's coming, but I'll have to reserve judgment for a second viewing. Actually, I don't know that I really care enough to watch it a second time.


R: Did you ever have an experience like this in school?

O: Well, there was the English teacher we all assumed was actually dead, based on her makeup and demeanor, but it turned out in the end that she was actually alive. I guess that's sort of the opposite of what happened here, though.

(D nearly falls from his chair laughing)

O: (To D) Really! You should have seen her! White as a sheet, powder blue and bright pink makeup all the time...

R: (Cutting in) That will be enough, O. Anyone have something a little closer happen in their academic past?

C: Well I had this physics teacher who just could never quite get it together. He'd be lecturing at the board, writing down a formula or something, you know, and what he was saying sort of made sense until you looked at what he'd written on the board, and then you would wonder "did I miss something?"

V: I don't want to gang up on the hard sciences, here, but I had a TA for Calc 3 as an undergrad whose English was almost impossible to understand. And we were all the time making wagers about what his mind was truly on, because part way through examples on the board he would switch from using x as a variable to using a, and things like that. We thought it was hysterical, but as it turns out some kids had quite a hard time following him through the examples.

D: Oh, I've had that in math a lot. Where they're working a proof on the board, and you're following it, and then they go and write something totally unexpected and you wonder "did they just screw up, or was I never really following this in the first place?"

S: I guess you all know that old cartoon " And then a miracle occurs "?

R: These are the kinds of stories I had in mind. This phenomenon of following the professor and then suddenly feeling lost and doubting whether you were ever really following in the first place is farily ubiquitous. The troubling thing is, of course, sometimes we really do just get lost, and sometimes the teacher really does go off the deep end momentarily, and we seldom know which it was.

C: So all this has *what* to do with learning objects?

R: Yes, let's come round to that. At the end of last session, O pointed out that we hadn't yet dealt with any of the risks of automatically assembling learning objects. In my personal opinion, one of the largest risks of automated approaches is what Wiley calls the " Sixth Sense effect ." What do you suppose he means by that?

V: I think I get it. The analogy of the teacher going off the deep end is the system automatically selecting the "wrong" object. Or, to be more in keeping with the language we've been using, the teacher zoning out is the equivalent of the system selecting an object that doesn't "fit" with the objects that had come before.

C: And, just like the movie, you might think to yourself, "Well, I thought I was following it - I guess I'll have to go back and study this again."

O: The big danger, of course, being people like D who say "I don't think I really care enough to go back and do this a second time."

(D's face can't seem to decide whether to be proud or offended)

V: Actually, the big danger is that, like this movie, even if the first hour and five minutes make sense, it only takes two minutes to wreck everything. Even if the system picks the right object 99% of the time, this effect may occur quite frequently when people use automated learning object systems.

S: But surely there's something the learner should be able to do within the system at this point to make things better - ask for another example? An equivalent object?

D: That just goes back to Wiley's simple-minded notion of functionally equivalent objects.

R: I thought we agreed that being simple-minded didn't make it stupid or evil.

C: But it doesn't matter, does it? Whatever mistake the machine made the first time, it would likely make again - because it would probably choose an object equivalent to the first one; or I should say, one that fits just as poorly as the first one did.

O: And I assume that, since this is "school," asking anyone else if they got lost at the same point you did would be considered "cheating." Or "academic dishonesty" since heaven forbid we would ever want to insult a child by saying they cheated. We might ruin their self-esteem!

R: A little jaded are we, O?

V: It's worse than that, actually, O. The vast majority of the people interested in automating the selection and presentation of learning objects are interested in it precisely because it takes the need for people completely out of the loop.

(O looks stunned)

V: People cost a lot of money - imagine what it would cost to put tutors in place to support 10,000 students going through a large section of an online class? Of course, the automated system will take all comers at basically the same cost (ignoring bandwidth). There would likely be a few tech support people in place, but the odds of there being any channel by which you could find - let alone talk to - another human involved in the class are very small.

S: Yes, it reminds me of a few lines from the introduction to the SCORM documentation . Let me see if I can find it. Here it is:

Empirical studies have raised national interest in employing education and training technologies that are based on the increasing power, accessibility and affordability of computer and networking technologies. These studies suggest that realizing the promise of improved learning efficiency through the use of instructional technologies-such as computer-based instruction, interactive multimedia instruction and intelligent tutoring systems-depends on the ability of those technologies to tailor instruction to the needs of individuals. In contrast to classroom learning, these approaches enable the pace, sequence, content and method of instruction to better fit each student's learning style, objectives and goals...

The dilemma presented by individually tailored instruction is that it combines an instructional imperative with an economic impossibility. With few exceptions, one instructor for every student, despite its advantages, is not affordable. Instructional technology promises to provide most of the advantages of individualized instruction at affordable cost while maintaining consistent, measurable, high-quality content.

R: In other words , "a one-on-one instructional model is preferable above others, human interaction in large scale learning environments is economically impossible, and automation via intelligent instructional systems is the only viable solution to providing anywhere anytime learning." But this conversation has gone on long enough. Let's draw out some summary questions. Any nominations?

D: Well, I would hope that after all that movie-watching we would include something about the Sixth Sense effect.

O: And something about this hatred of humankind.

R: I think we can temper that final comment into something useful. How about this?

  1. What is the Sixth Sense effect? What are the risks of automated systems described by the effect? What are possible ways around the effect?
  2. What is the role of social interaction in the context of systems that automatically assemble learning objects for learner use?

S: Oh, that's a much better way of capturing O's feeling.

R: Ok then! Next week, another movie! But something much more cheerful, and with more music.

Citation: admin. (2006, January 17). The Sixth Sense Effect. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site:
Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License