One of my favorite presentations at the 2011 Ohio University CALL Conference was made by Jeff Kuhn who presented a small research study he’d done using the above eye-tracking device that he put together himself.
If you’re not familiar with eye-tracking, it’s a technology that records what an person is looking at and for how long. In the example video below, which uses the technology to examine the use of a website, the path that the eyes take is represented by a line. A circle represents each time the eye pauses, with larger circles indicating longer pauses. This information can be viewed as a session map of all of the circles (0:45) and as a heat map of the areas of concentration (1:15).
This second video shows how this technology can be used in an academic context to study reading. Notice how the reader’s eyes do not move smoothly and that the pauses occur for different lengths of time.
Jeff’s study examined the noticing of errors. He tracked the eyes of four ESL students as they read passages with errors and found that they spent an extra 500 milliseconds on errors that they noticed. (Some learners are not ready to notice some errors. The participants in the study did not pause on those errors.)
The study was interesting, but the hardware Jeff built to do the study was completely captivating to me. He started by removing the infrared filter from a web cam and mounting it to a bike helmet using a piece of scrap metal, some rubber bands and zip ties. Then he made a couple of infrared LED arrays to shine infrared light towards the eyes being tracked. As that light is reflected by the eyes, it is picked up by the webcam, and translated into data by the free, open-source Ogama Gaze Tracker.
So, instead of acquiring access to a specialized eye-tracking station costing thousands of dollars, Jeff has built a similar device for a little over a hundred bucks, most of which went to the infrared LED arrays. With a handful of these devices deployed, almost anyone could gather a large volume of eye-tracking data quickly and cheaply.
Incidentally, if you are thinking that there are a few similarities between this project and the wii-based interactive whiteboard, a personal favorite, there are several: Both cut the price of hardware by a factor of at least ten and probably closer to one hundred, both use free open-source software, both use infrared LEDs (though this point is mostly a coincidence), both have ties to gaming (the interactive whiteboard is based on a Nintendo controller; eye-tracking software is being used and refined by gamers to select targets in first-person shooters), and both are excellent examples of the ethos of edupunk, which embraces a DIY approach to education.
Do you know of other interesting edupunk projects? Leave a comment.