Education has remained large­ly unchanged for mil­len­nia. In any class­room, you see a set of stu­dents gath­ered around a teacher who’s writ­ing on the board, or maybe now we’ve added a PowerPoint deck. But, as in many oth­er fields that have been slow to change, the data rev­o­lu­tion is com­ing for education. 

Now, many peo­ple think that this rev­o­lu­tion will come through MOOCs, or mas­sive open online cours­es, in part because com­put­ers can real­ly eas­i­ly col­lect data on all of the sorts of things that stu­dents do. So, where they click and when, what they type into a dis­cus­sion forum, whether they click pause or play on a video.

However, this data is seri­ous­ly impov­er­ished with respect to what stu­dents actu­al­ly think and do in order to learn. And despite the hype MOOCs aren’t the rev­o­lu­tion that we’ve been told they are. On the oth­er hand, real class­room data has enor­mous poten­tial. If only we could get it. And that’s where con­nect­ed sen­sors come in. This is one of the things that my lab is work­ing on.

A large classroom of students, each with an icon over their head, either a green checkmark or red x

So, rich data is con­stant­ly being pro­duced in the class­room. Student engage­ment and emo­tions are one of the strongest pre­dic­tors of learn­ing. And facial expres­sions are the data that we use to under­stand this. So, does the stu­dent look frus­trat­ed, con­fused, bored? Are they pleased, excit­ed, or or sur­prised about some­thing? We can also use voice data. So every­thing that the teacher says, every­thing that the stu­dents say, this is very impor­tant data that tells us about learn­ing. So, what types of ques­tions [is] the teacher ask­ing? Are the stu­dents deeply col­lab­o­rat­ing on a top­ic? Are they chal­leng­ing one anoth­er’s ideas in an inter­est­ing way? All of these are real­ly impor­tant pieces of infor­ma­tion about how stu­dents learn. 

Now, nor­mal­ly the teacher is the only one who acts as a sen­sor” in the class­room. So, they’re con­stant­ly col­lect­ing all of this data and fran­ti­cal­ly try­ing to make deci­sions in the moment about what to do. And then maybe at night they can go home and take a minute to reflect by look­ing at the assign­ments that their stu­dents have pro­duced. But until now, it’s been incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to get a real under­stand­ing of what’s hap­pened moment-to-moment in the class­room. This is where con­nect­ed sen­sors come in. 

Closeups of various sensors: a Microsoft Kinect sensor,web cam, and microphone

So, using things like depth cam­eras or micro­phones arrays, we can col­lect all of these data on the stu­dent and teacher actions that I’ve been telling you about, and then use machine learn­ing tech­niques to under­stand and deep­en our knowl­edge of what works for teach­ing and learn­ing. So, you could imag­ine that such a sys­tem would be like a per­son­al infor­mat­ics sys­tem. You might even be wear­ing a track­er for this type of info on your wrist right now. So, we can right now track the the num­ber of steps that we take, the calo­ries in the food that we eat, or oth­er sorts of infor­ma­tion about our our dai­ly lives.

A hand holding an iPad displaying various classroom information

Now, sim­i­lar­ly to how the sys­tems tell you about your weight loss over time, imag­ine that we can now present the teacher with sum­maries of the most impor­tant things that hap­pened in their class that day. So, we could present this to them, and the teacher could, reflect set their goals for mov­ing their class for­ward, and mon­i­tor their own progress towards these goals. 

Now, for me, even more excit­ing than a dash­board is the abil­i­ty to use these con­nect­ed sen­sors, in real-time, in the class­room, in order to improve teach­ing and learn­ing. So, my lab at Carnegie Mellon is right now auto­mat­i­cal­ly col­lect­ing all of this sort of data in the class­room, and dis­play­ing it to our instruc­tors in periph­er­al displays. 

And of course, this requires some very care­ful design to make sure that it’s a ben­e­fit to learn­ing and not a dis­trac­tion. But as you can see here we’re able to use our own uni­ver­si­ty class­rooms of a liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry in order to test the types of tech­niques that might actu­al­ly sup­port learning. 

Mockup of a report showing class attendance, participation, etc. for various dates

So here we’re flash­ing the screen read when the teacher’s been talk­ing for too long, and they might want to ask a ques­tion. But then they can go back after class and look at all of the data that’s been col­lect­ed and say, Boy, next class I think I wan­na try to get more stu­dents in the class to par­tic­i­pate. And maybe I can get them to talk ear­li­er on in the class instead of this talk­ing on and on myself.”

Now, I’ve said that MOOCs aren’t the answer, but we can in fact use these same tech­niques to improve learn­ing online as well. So, we can use the cam­era, the micro­phone, that’s already on your com­put­er to detect who’s work­ing. Are they frus­trat­ed or con­fused? And then we can use the same sorts of data to improve the feed­back that we’re giv­ing these students.

Of course there come some risks with this type of data, but isn’t it worth it to share your data on whether you’re the qui­et one in class in order to give the next gen­er­a­tion of teach­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to give every­one in the room a chance to speak? And I think that par­ents and even stu­dents them­selves could ben­e­fit from hav­ing this information. 

Now, the White House and many oth­er agen­cies are cur­rent­ly mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions about just how impor­tant data is going to be for improv­ing edu­ca­tion. However, in the rush to move to online learn­ing, we should­n’t for­get about the rich data that we can get from face-to-face class­rooms and how this can help us improve edu­ca­tion everywhere.

Thank you.

Further Reference

Amy Ogan’s home page.

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.