Tag Archives: read

Edupunk Eye-Tracking = DIY Research

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.

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Hey, You Guys!

light bulb

In the 1970s, The Electric Company was a kids television show made by the Children’s Television Workshop, the same folks that made Sesame Street,  but designed for a slightly older, getting-ready-to-read audience.  Fast-forward to 2009.  The Electric Company is being made again by what is now called Sesame Workshop.

Each half-hour show contains a main story featuring The Electric Company kids and their antagonist Prankster peers.  Vignettes interspersed between parts of the story focus on letters and sounds that relate to the vocabulary highlighted in each episode.  Most are catchy songs or games and contests played between the characters.  I’ve embedded several videos featuring silent e in this blog post.

The best thing about this show is that it does not baby it’s audience.  Scott Cameron, the Director of Education and Research for Sesame Workshop, has experience teaching ESL with music and games.  The focus of The Electric Company is on motivating children to read and this really can’t be done by talking down to an increasingly media-savvy audience.

In our house, Silent E is a Ninja (below) is a favorite that has achieved earworm status.  Try to watch it once or twice and tell me it’s not stuck in your head the rest of the day.  You’ve been warned.

The Electric Company has even brought back its classic silhouetted heads reading words together.  These are really effective demonstrations of learning to read by sounding out words.

Videos are available on the Electric Company YouTube Channel and on the Electric Company website (which includes a section for parents and educators).

Will these videos work with adult students?  It depends on the student.  These videos are fun and poppy and targeted to a younger audience.  But as a way to expose language learners to lots of fun, catchy, repeatable reinforcement, these really can’t be beat.  Do you know of other good videos?  Post a link in the Comments section.

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Children’s Literature for ESL

children's books

I was talking to one of the teachers in our program recently about her use of children’s literature in her classroom.  Every time I read Dr. Suess to my kids, I can’t help thinking how much fun these books are to read and how much ESL students could benefit from them.  But, many of our students are adults who would understandably feel demeaned by being asked to read kids’ books.

The solution?  Literary analysis.  Get students to analyze children’s books as a genre of literature.  In this way, students are exposed to texts that are simple and fun but are also required to do some higher order thinking.  Not only does this save face (“I’m not reading kids books, I’m analyzing children’s literature!”), but it also requires a deeper level of thinking and encourages more complex language use.

Unfortunately, the technological supplements to these books are usually lame flash games with very little learning value, particularly for adult learners.  However, the rare exceptions (useful online grammar and vocabulary games, for example) could be beneficial supplements.

Is this a gimmick to get adults to read kids books?  Perhaps.  But without a little encouragement, adult students might never be exposed to some very good (and very accessible) writing.  To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, if they’ve never read them, they should.  These books are fun and fun is good.

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