School Daze: Eye-Tracking Study Reveals What Earns Student Attention in Classroom

Tobii Pro
Press release

Kennesaw, Ga. & Washington, July 17, 2012 — Tobii Technology, the global leader in eye tracking and gaze interaction, today unveiled the findings of a new research study using Tobii Glasses, from David Rosengrant, professor of physics education at Kennesaw State University, revealing the attention patterns of students in the classroom. The first-of-its-kind study provides new insight into effective teaching techniques that aim to keep students engaged and motivated to learn during lecture.

“Until now, there has been no firsthand, innate, biological measurement of student attention in the classroom,” said Rosengrant. “By using Tobii Glasses, we were able to measure what the student observes during lecture, how much of their time is dedicated to the material presented in class and, as an instructor, what are the greatest inhibitors to keeping their attention.”

Rosengrant’s pilot study was held over a four-month period with eight college students in 70-minute pre-elementary education lectures at Kennesaw State University. Conducted using Tobii Glasses, a portable, wearable eye-tracking device that allows for unobtrusive eye tracking for research in real-world environments, the study discredited the widely accepted belief that classroom attention peaks during the first 15 minutes of class and then generally tapers off. Instead, Rosengrant discovered that classroom attention is not as linear as previously thought and is actually impacted by various factors throughout the duration of lecture.

These factors include the verbal presentation of new material that is not contained within the instructor’s PowerPoint, the use of humor by the instructor and the proximity of the instructor to the student, which all contribute to greater attention from the student. Rosengrant’s study also concluded that “digital distractions” such as mobile phones and the Web, particularly Facebook, are the greatest inhibitors to retaining students’ attention in the classroom. From these insights, Rosengrant stressed the need for professors to alter their lecture structure through the injection of varying activities and the use of humor to engage students.

“David’s study is yet another example of the valuable insights that can be unveiled through the application and analysis of eye-tracking studies in the field, especially in regard to teaching,” said Barbara Barclay, general manager of Tobii North America. “The insights collected from the gaze patterns in this study can radically alter the landscape of the education profession and allow instructors to apply much more efficient communication techniques that can have a profound positive impact on student success.”

Rosengrant will publish the full study, “Studying Student Attention via Eye Tracking,” in the fall and will continue to expand his research in order to generate insights that can impact the future of classroom instruction and ultimately students’ success and the field of teaching.

“I hope that this study enlightens the education community about how to engage students effectively in the classroom, maximize student focus on the material and, ultimately, increase their achievement,” added Rosengrant.

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