When I was young, I would sometimes sit with my hip and groovy (much) older teenage sisters and listen to their music – usually on records but sometimes just listening to the radio. I remember one night when I heard Kiki Dee’s unique soul vocals pump out “I’ve Got the Music in Me” and at the end of the song, the radio announcer declared that she must have swallowed a radio! It was a poor joke but we found it amusing and rang the radio station to tell the DJ of our amusement. His response was interesting. He told us that he sits in the studio with a record player and microphone and talks to himself. If he didn’t have the microphone in front of him then he may be committed to an institution for the same actions. He appreciated the fact that someone out there was actually listening.

He had a good point. You can look at radio ratings and estimated listener numbers and perform surveys but, as a radio host, when you are talking, right at this precise moment in time, is anyone listening?

When someone sets out for a career in radio, they are presumably aware of this issue but educators are different. When your career path involves standing in a school classroom or a University lecture hall, you fully expect to be able to see the whites of their eyes. Well that was yesterday. Today is a new world. Students all over the world are currently sitting at home. For the educator, accustomed to seeing people in front of them, the best they may have is a thumbnail on screen of each student. Pretty tough to gauge the engagement level of the audience.

Until now.

A data analytics team is currently working on developing a program to give real-time feedback to a teacher on the engagement level of students sitting in front of their computer. By tracking eye movements; facial expressions; head actions along with mouse and keyboard activity, researchers are determining the amount of engagement each student has with the current delivery of information. By taking the combined data from all of the students in one class the teacher sees a line graph of their current engagement level. The line starts to go up – fantastic! The students are really listening to what I am saying. Line starts to drop? I guess they aren’t interested in my Boomer anecdote. The greatest advantage is that, just like with face to face teaching, the teachers can subtly and continually alter their delivery to make sure they are reaching their students.

With theories abounding on what our PCV (post coronavirus) world will look like, it is generally accepted that online learning will be a part of that world. Current research indicates that 46 per cent of young students decrease learning outcomes in an online world.

This technology is only in its infancy and just 500 hours of data has been logged so far but COVID-19 gives researchers a rare opportunity to gather vast amounts of data to make giant leaps in this technology.

One of the positives that we may see PCV is for educational opportunities to be available to students regardless of their postcode.

The next scary step with the research? Imagine a badge that you could wear to tell the person you are speaking with your engagement level. Over 25 years of marriage I think I have managed to feign interest in my wife’s shoe shopping expeditions but if technology started to be introduced, I may be in trouble!

Tell me your view of education PCV at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson

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