Jan 7, 2007

are you ready for the revolution? tracking engagement with technology

I'd argue the primary concern most teachers have with technology-based learning is the removal of the human element. It's not that we fear losing our jobs--robots aren't that smart yet--but that learning isn't just about memorizing facts. You have to have an emotional investment in the content and the process. As it stands, a computer can't tell if a user is bored, and can't adapt to make her unbored.

That may soon change. Researchers are developing technology to monitor student engagement, and reflexively adjust programs to spark interest when a student gets frustrated or unattached.
The system keeps track of students' attention by measuring physical signs of emotion. It then varies the speed and content of a lesson based on an assessment of their level of interest. Ultimately, it could improve electronic tutoring programmes, say the researchers involved, thus helping developing countries deliver education to remote areas that lack educational institutions....

To use the new learning software, a student wears a ring fitted with sensors that monitor heart rate, blood pressure and changes in electrical resistance caused by perspiration. This data is then transmitted via Bluetooth to a computer that assesses the wearer's emotional state. It judges whether they are interested and keeping up or bored and struggling.

"We've built a prototype that can moderate the flow of educational information as a result," Callaghan told New Scientist. For example, it can slow down or change topic if a student seems disinterested, or appears to be falling behind. The software might also try a different mode of delivery, switching from text to video, for example.
The system is being tested in China and Great Britain, and is perhaps only a couple years from wider integration into the e-classroom.

I, for one, welcome our new robot pedagogues.

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