The Eyes Have It at the Lund’s Prototype Digital Learning Classroom

Humanities Lab of Lund University in Sweden is working on groundbreaking educational research using eye tracking technology to enhance learning in collaboration with researchers from the University of Tübingen/Germany. The prototype classroom will use the eye tracking technology along with displays and computers in the lab to help determine what parts of a lecture appeal to particular students, enabling educators to understand what parts of the lesson attract what attention.

“Future students will use more electronic media than paper books and research in the new lab is expected to lead to new materials tailored to each child`s ability and interest,” says Kenneth Holmqvist, Director of the Eye Tracking Group at Lund University.

“In this new visual perception lab, we will use eye tracking as a standard research tool to analyze how children learn things in a classroom situation. In a formal purchasing process, we evaluated the eye tracking hardware of several manufacturers. We finally decided for the SMI RED-m solution due to its superior technical specifications and the robust and advanced eye tracking algorithms derived from other SMI scientific grade eye trackers.”

The technology in play are advanced eye trackers developed by SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) and will include 25 of their portable eye tracking systems dubbed “SMI RED-m.”

The systems are simple to install, include all the software needed to allow them to run, and can be used with any machine with a USB port. The device looks a little bit like a rounded Nintendo Wii bar that attaches beneath a monitor and sits out of the way to track the eye movements of the user. Due to its small footprint and ease of installation, SMI touts this solution as the best for any situation where numerous eye trackers need to be installed. To make it even better, the system works with most spectacles and contact lenses (meaning that most students won’t have to get specific eyewear.)

The applications in child education and potential use in the classroom

No doubt, applications might also spring up to identify wandering attention of students and help tailor lessons to keep focus (potentially much better than the literary trope of the nun with the ruler prowling the desks.) Hopefully the eye tracking technology will lead to teachers modifying their lessons rather than disciplining students who don’t focus well. Much of the time, education is about garnering interest rather than instilling a sense of must-focus.

Lectures in gradeschool, highschool, and even college include lots of media not just an instructor (or instructors) and a whiteboard giving a lecture. Nowadays as technology begins to become a pervasive part of our society, there’s also a great deal of media involved. Digital props are easier and more adaptable than those that might be carried into the classroom and being able to tell how computers, display screens, or even tablets in the laps of students affect their learning is important.

Recent research keeps showing that exposure to high technology can diminish the learning capacity of students; but much of this may be because of the way that tablets, computers, and displays are being used to teach.

With each advance of technology we become more than human and students suffer the same sort of effect. Pen and paper enables us to write down and remember a lot more data than we would ever be able to without it, and as a result people rely less on memorization; computers and tablets enable people to store and access even more information—add in the cloud, and potentially Google Glasses and it makes pen and paper obsolete in its ability to store and collage information.

Being able to use and access the technology of the day is a skill so important that we cannot push technology out of the classroom—after all, we didn’t do it with pen, paper, and books—but we do need to be cognizant of how technology will affect the learning environment.

Using eye tracking to enable an understanding of how students themselves interact with an learn from tablets and screens in a classroom will probably lead to a great number of innovations in understanding how to use it to help them learn.

About Kyt Dotson

Technology and civilization walk hand in hand and civilization is nothing without the skin of society, brushing up against itself, speaking strange nothings across dimly lit avenues and computer screens. If we're going to understand ourselves in this digital era, it will be through watching the adoption of technology by people to express themselves as people. I am an anthropologist and an author of science fiction and fantasy--and with my technology, I hope to open up new and exciting worlds that will not just enlighten the humanity of my friends and fans but also educate and enhance the expression of their own personhood. Find more of my work on Google+; send tips to @kytsune.