Eye Tracking as Pedagogical, Generative Tool

2014 CITE Fellow Dr. Sarah Stanley shares this reflection on her CITE project:

Learning is like the jet stream of an airplane–it vanishes! But, as a teacher, I want to capture that jet stream–I want to study and learn from my student’s learning.
So, in Fall 2014,  I will be, again, working with eye-tracking with my students. This will be my second attempt, but I’m excited to use what I learned the first time around!
Here’s what happened and is happening with my project:
1. Thanks to my instructional designer Brooke’s devotion (she attended an 8-hour seminar on Eyetracking and Education in Philly!):
I was encouraged to KEEP on experimenting. Brooke shared her experience with think-aloud protocols in the seminar. Basically, this means the person who is being eye-tracked gets to re-watch the screen capture and process out loud what it is they notice. These think-aloud sessions can be audio recorded and then analyzed. In fact, think-aloud protocol analysis is a method I can use to study across a class of students any patterns which may emerge in what students are noticing or not noticing.  What’s more, is that empirical studies have shown that “noticing” is the precursor to learning!
“…empirical studies have shown that ‘noticing’ is the precursor to learning!”
2. Thanks to a former student Nick who agreed to join me in the research and created a 4-hour composing session of his reading and writing process for English 485: Teaching Composition in the Schools:
Nick is what cognitive educational psychologists would call an “expert.” His eye-tracking video will be useful to him as he wants to be a teacher in Alaska and across the world. He can edit the video because it highlights, with an eye fixation map, his intertextual practices, and close reading skills in a long composition session for our class. I watched this video over and over and gained tremendous insight into Nick’s process of learning. And, also his goals as a teacher. I now want to ask Nick to continue to work with me as I would like to check in with him after a year’s time in an Alaska classroom if his beliefs about teaching writing are the same.
What’s more, because of Nick’s willingness I was able to learn more about the exporting of data from my eye-tracking device. The export comes as two different video screen captures–one is a heat map that highlights “hot spots” on the screen; and the other, is a fixation map that highlights where the eyes travel across the screen. It also comes as raw data which is an ENORMOUS Excel file that gives you coordinates on the screen with time stamps. The level of detail is so micro that you need to average the microseconds into a second and you need to do a similar kind of spatial averaging. You would then correlate time and space in order to locate through the raw data what is happening as a pattern. I will then compare this finding to what I learned as I watched the screen capture in real-time. Is there a correlation?
3. Thanks to CITE’s financial support, along with other’s Offices at UAF including URSA, CLA, and Office of Faculty Development, I was able to attend a 2-week research seminar:
July 27-August 8 I attended a 2-week research seminar in Hanover, New Hampshire. I brought with me the 4hr composing session of Nick. I joined people from all over the U.S., Belgium, and Russia to apply systematic research methodologies to the data we brought to the seminar. The goal of the leaders was to encourage seasoned and new writing researchers to develop empirical research findings. I have plans to begin collaboration with a colleague from Belgium who has access to an Eye-tracking lab there. As researchers, we are creating a long-term Eye-tracking study to learn the efficacy of the technology as a Noticing Tool. We’re excited to compare findings across our classrooms, contexts, and even languages–are there patterns of what student’s notice when they are engaged with certain texts? Knowledge of these patterns should be relevant to instructional design technology and environments. Wouldn’t knowing instantaneously the places where students were noticing and not noticing help you be a more effective online and face-to-face teacher?

4. Thanks to CITE’s design of this Fellows Program, I will get to be collaborating with another faculty member in Fall 2014:
I’m VERY excited to begin another project with the eye tracker, and I hope a new CITE fellow will join me in this new work at UAF. In fact, thinking about Fall 2015 led me to a new study with my students. My plan involves getting another IRB-approved study to use eye tracking in English 414: Research Writing. I have taught this course three times. I like to divide up the semester with the question: What’s the difference between researching writing and writing research? The first question has always led to a collaborative project aimed to increase student awareness of the processes involved in both writing and research. For this portion of the class, we’ll be researching these processes using the eye tracker!  My plan is to have students use the tracker to do weekly composing work for the class. Then, I will edit the screen capture to create a 5-minute highlight of what I believe will lead to noticing. The next assignment will be for them to watch the video while “thinking aloud” which will then be recorded. Then, we will analyze this transcript in the class–comparing one student’s noticing to another. We will then use this research to model a kind of research writing as a class.

 I‘m VERY excited to begin another project with the eye tracker, and I hope a new CITE fellow will join me in this new work at UAF.”

I’ve shared my PREZI I made for the Dartmouth Seminar, in case folks are interested. Since this was made for the seminar audience, my focus was on the potential of eye-tracking as a method for critical teaching. Some of the paths to the PREZI will make this clear, though likely the images warrant explanation which I can certainly do if folks have questions!
Thanks for reading.

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