The sensors analyze the overall sound of the classroom, and not necessarily specific things being said, Ogan said. “The reason for this is to make sure that as we test this technology, we want to protect students’ privacy and their educational data, and making sure privacy stays in place as we’re analyzing the sounds.”
For example, the sensors could pick up on whether more sounds are coming from the front of the classroom versus the back, and whether that correlates to a teacher being more attuned to students in the front rows.
“I think one of the things we’re noticing is that even if you are incorporating active learning, it’s very easy to focus on the students at the front of the classroom raising their hands, and this data can let teachers know whether they’ve got an equitable spread of participation across the classroom,” Ogan said.
In between classes, teachers receive strategies that correlate to the data, such as ways to engage students in the back of the classroom who might not be as motivated to participate. Those strategies come from classroom literature on educational psychology and are sent to teachers’ phones.
Eventually, Ogan said, teachers will be able to use that data to influence their teaching in real time.
Moving forward, Ogan and her colleague, PhD student David Gerritsen, are working on techniques using cameras to detect patterns of emotion, posture, and other things students do in the classroom.
“This is a really great design challenge–we have to be able to take that data and display it to teachers in a way that isn’t distracting to them,” Ogan said. “We’re working with a university right now with lots of lecturing. When the system detects that students haven’t participated in a while, we flash a big red screen on the instructor’s laptop to notify them to incorporate some student interaction. That’s why we’re doing lots of work directly with instructors–so they have input on what the system does and how it looks. It doesn’t work if you don’t have buy-in from the instructors.”
Ogan said she hopes to move to K-12 classrooms in the near future.