Netherhall School have been exploring how eye tracking systems can be used to support and provide accurate assessments of learners with disabilities and creating support materials for staff wanting to use eye tracker technology with learners. You can read the initial project post here, and the interim project update here.
In this post, the school shares an executive summary of the project evaluation carried out by Nether Hall, De Montfort University’s Education Futures Centre. A full report can also be downloaded (included in the resources section at the end of this post).
This project was an investigation into the use of eye-tracking technology to aid assessment of pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) and severe learning difficulties (SLD) at Nether Hall Special School. The research was funded by Leicester City Council. The research was a collaboration between Nether Hall School and De Montfort University, Education Futures Centre. The methodology utilised a ‘participatory action research’ approach in which the teachers acted as co-researchers with university staff to conduct an innovative case study.
• To research whether the application of eye-tracking technology can be used to carry out accurate assessments of the pupil to inform and guide the school, families and other professionals practice;
• To confirm whether judgements and observations being made previously by teachers, parents and other professionals from outside agencies were an accurate assessment of the pupil’s abilities;
• To improve understanding between teachers and pupils through eye-tracking technology to identify the interests of pupils with complex learning needs.
This research project targeted pupils making limited progress with respect to their speech and language targets. The school wanted to improve their techniques in producing accurate assessments in accordance with the statutory guidance on performance (P scale) for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). The findings were expected to provide information for teachers, parents and other professionals about what pupils were processing in their learning experiences when looking at the computer, as the eye-tracking technology enabled more accurate assessment about what the pupils were attending to on the screen.
The technology deployed for the research investigation was supplied by Smartbox assistive technology. This eye-tracking technology allowed the recording of pupil’s eye movements to produce heat maps and gaze plotting that showed precisely where the pupils had been looking.
The camera (hardware) is called ‘Tobii PCEye Go’ and that recognises the eye gaze and allows the pupil’s gaze to interact with the PC software. The software is called ‘Gaze Viewer’ and that allows the recording of eye movements in heat maps and gaze plotting. This is the element needed by teachers for assessment purposes.
It is the combination of hardware (camera) and software (Gaze Viewer) that is important as this allows the capture of data for assessment purposes.
• The project found that the eye-tracking technology provided an independent data source on the pupil’s cognitive abilities, which in turn:
• increased teachers trust in their judgements about what individual pupils were attending to on the computer screen and the pupils understanding when asked questions about what was on the screen. This in turn:
• enhanced teachers confidence in their assessment of the pupil’s performance levels.
The research findings suggest that the use of eye-tracking technology as an assessment tool helped teachers to gather more information on individual pupils who are difficult to assess. Key findings were that the eye-tracking technology was effective as an assessment tool in;
• providing more information on individual learner’s interests, likes, dislikes and engagement levels on particular topics; thereby
• enabling teachers to be able to provide different styles of visual images, such as photos or cartoons, to aid pupil’s learning;
• the heat maps provided data that demonstrated the abilities of pupils not observed before by teachers or parents;
• the data gathered provided accurate assessments that could be recorded and then monitored;
• this gave teachers another tool to make informed judgments of how the pupils were performing with respect to their P levels.
From the findings of the action research project, teachers reported the following key outcomes:
• Eye-tracking technology can be an effective assessment tool to assess the understanding of pupils working at low P levels who have profound and multiple learning difficulties;
• Eye-tracking technology provided evidence about pupils’ demonstrable abilities to understand different concepts that altered the teachers views about what the pupils were seeing and processing, when looking at the computer screen;
• When working with pupils with complex needs, the eye-tracking technology has more impact when personalised activities, which are simpler, are used with the pupils instead of the standard learning activities;
• Pupils with severe learning difficulties respond better to uncluttered background images that avoid confusion and distraction;
• Heat maps and second camera observations provided the most accurate assessment results;
• Though the P levels of pupils did not change after their assessment with eye-tracking technology, the information gathered on what the pupils liked/disliked, what they were interested in, their cognitive understanding and what motivates them, was valuable in informing teachers’ practice;
• The eye-tracking technology data enhanced the teachers confidence in the performance level assigned to the pupil, as it provided additional data to inform teachers judgements and to thereby make the teacher’s judgements more robust;
• Most importantly, in cases where previously only assumptions could be made regarding pupil’s cognitive abilities, eye-tracking technology provided data which could confirm the teachers’ judgements, as well providing additional information on pupils’ likes and dislikes, which could then help teachers to prepare more personalised learning activities in the future.
It is recommended that teachers receive training before the use of eye-tracking technology. Also it is suggested that a designated staff member is given responsibility to oversee the whole process and they ensure that appropriate materials are created for pupils. With appropriate materials, reliable data can be gathered and personalised learning can be enhanced. If other schools wish to use eye-tracking technology, it is recommended that they create they own materials, as the generic learning activities and pictures that came with the software need to be adapted for pupils with complex needs.
Nether Hall School Eye Gaze for Assessment research reports: