Smart Glasses Help Professors See Students' Thoughts
The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid is one of Spain's foremost universities.
CREDIT: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Professors who want to address student questions without breaking a lecture's tempo may get a boon in the form of augmented reality glasses that can identify students and pinpoint their questions.
If you've ever been in a lecture hall — on either side of the podium — then you know that stopping a lecture midstream is often a recipe for confusion. That said, in classes with a few hundred people, there are bound to be a few questions that crop up.
Enter the Augmented Lecture Feedback System (ALFs), a research project from the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid, which gives students an unobtrusive way to voice questions, and professors a method of addressing them without pausing for every raised hand or shouted concern.
The ALFs works by combining a pair of augmented reality glasses with a smartphone app. Students install the app on their phones, and can activate symbols to indicate understanding, questions or a desire for the professor to slow down. If the professor asks a question, the students can also indicate that they know the answer.
When the professor wears the augmented reality glasses, he or she can see the symbols appear above the students' heads. The glasses will also display an aggregate of the students' symbols. This way, the professor can quickly gauge whether most students understand the lecture, or whether he or she needs to clarify a point.
This development may aid students who are shy about raising their hands in class, although its bigger advantage is that it will allow the professor to tailor his lecture according to students' understanding on the fly. Over the course of an entire semester, a professor will learn which parts of the syllabus students tend to understand and which they don't, leading to more efficient lesson plans the next time around. [See also: University Surplus Store Reveals Geek Treasures]
In order to control the ALFs, the professor interacts with the symbols via a Microsoft Kinect, and can similarly use gestures to go back and select specific slides from a presentation. The ALFs can use facial recognition software to identity students, or pose questions where they must answer in real-time (similar to the remote controls that many large lecture halls currently use).
The one drawback of the system is that, at present, augmented reality glasses are generally very expensive and unwieldy. The ones used in the experiment were dark, which meant that students could not see a professor's eyes during a lecture — a big problem when trying to focus. Within the next few years, though, the technology could become more streamlined and affordable, especially with the advent of Google Glass.
Big lecture halls, especially for introductory-level classes, will always be something of a necessary evil, but the ALFs could help make them at least a little more personalized and friendly. Once students graduate to smaller, higher-level classes, the need for ALFs should diminish rapidly.
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