As a student, I had the same problem. If the lecturer wasn't particularly engaging, I found that my mind tended to wander to some other entirely more fanciful place, where I imagined that I might be occupied by some all together more interesting activities.
Recognizing that other students have the same attention deficit disorders, a professor of physics education at Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA, USA) has been trying to uncover why by equipping them with eye-tracking technology during lectures in the classroom.
His first-of-its-kind study aims to provide new insights into effective teaching techniques that can keep students engaged and motivated to learn during lectures.
By using glasses equipped with eye-tracking technology from Tobii Technology (Danderyd, Sweden), Professor David Rosengrant was able to measure what students observe during a lecture, how much of their time was dedicated to the material presented in the class, and discover what the factors were that distracted them the most.
Professor Rosengrant's pilot study was held over a four-month period with eight college students in 70-minute pre-elementary education lectures at Kennesaw State University.
The study discredited the widely accepted belief that classroom attention peaks during the first 15 minutes of class and then generally tapers off. Instead, Rosengrant discovered that classroom attention is actually impacted by various factors throughout the duration of lecture.
Those factors include the verbal presentation of new material that is not contained within an instructor's PowerPoint presentation, the use of humor by the instructor and the proximity of the instructor to the student, which all contribute to greater attention from the student.
Professor Rosengrant's study also concluded that "digital distractions" such as mobile phones and the Web -- particularly Facebook -- are the greatest inhibitors to retaining students' attention in the classroom.
When I read that, I started to get a bit hot under the collar. While I appreciate that not all academics are born teachers, the least the students who attend their classes can do is to respect them enough not to fiddle with their digital paraphernalia during their lectures. Even I would show a poor presenter that amount of consideration, and that's saying something.
Related items on eye tracking technology from Vision Systems Design that you might also find of interest.
1. Eye tracking helps spot movement disorder
Tobii Technology (Danderyd, Sweden) has selected a behavioral research team that used eye-tracking technology to enhance its understanding of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) as the winner of its annual Tobii EyeTrack Award.
2. Researchers can track what catches a designer's eye
An eye-tracking system developed by researchers at The Open University and the University of Leeds (Leeds, UK) aims to remove the constraints on creativity imposed by computer-aided design (CAD) tools.
3. Eye test for Alzheimer's disease
UK researchers have demonstrated that people with Alzheimer's disease have difficulty with one particular type of eye-tracking test.
4. Eye tracker spots liars with greater accuracy
Computer scientists at the University of Buffalo (UB; Buffalo, NY, USA) are exploring whether machines can read visual cues that give away deceit.