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Ed Research Gets New Eye Tracking Tool

Even as researchers are increasingly turning to the study of how the mind learns, one company wants to help facilitate that work with a new product for projects that have an eye-tracking component. SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI), a German company with North American headquarters in Boston, has launched the SMI Digital Classroom, which collects data on eye tracking from up to 40 students simultaneously.

Delivered as a bundle, the system includes computers, eye trackers and software for extracting data on "saccades" (or rapid blinking), "fixations" and "blink-based metrics," as well as other behavioral elements. The company said that the product was intended for use by researchers in educational and learning sciences, psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience. The computers and trackers can be set up in multiple locations or in a classroom; all data is delivered to the operator, who can access it from a  lone workstation.

"At what point does a student lose interest in learning or simply miss key information?" asked Product Manager Markus Plank in a prepared statement. "This product promises a wealth of data about what works in a classroom environment and what doesn't; where and when students' attention is won and lost; and longer term, gives researchers insights that shape curriculum and learning strategies."

The set-up can also be used for professional development. For example, the company has worked with the Welten Institute within Open Universiteit in the Netherlands. There, researchers are studying how new and experienced teachers differ in their "perception and interpretation of problematic classroom scenes." As a summarized case study on the company's website explains, in those scenarios, "detecting relevant cues is crucial for preventing conflicts from escalating." For the research, teachers are shown video replays of classroom scenarios where escalations may be occurring. Eye tracking with SMI's RED250 mobile unit is measured to figure out where the teachers are turning their attention.

Another project, this one at the Center for Applied Neuroscience in Germany's Free University, has tested the use of a beta of the Digital Classroom in reading experiments with children. According to lead researcher Sascha Tamm, the new product will help researchers gain control over their testing. "In the past, multi-station experiments have meant going from PC to PC to say, start the experiment. Being able to control all aspects remotely means uniform experimental conditions and a more manageable research environment," he said.

Added Plank, "One operator, located at a single PC, can deploy experiments, monitor progress live, interact with a single student if required, and monitor incoming research-grade data. None of this requires deep technical or IT expertise; so instead of losing time with technical issues, researchers can focus on scientific questions."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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