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CMU Researchers Developing Tech To Help College Professors Be Better Teachers

Carnegie Mellon University
A still from a Carnegie Mellon University classroom equipped with EduSense (above). The processed data that helps educators gleen how many students are focused on the lecture (below).

College students have access to an abundance of data to track their progress in classes, from test scores to grades on projects and assignments. Professors, however, often have to rely on subjective evaluations once a year to get a sense of how they are doing. A system developed by a Carnegie Mellon University team aims to give educators more data to work with so they can improve their teaching techniques.

EduSense uses two video cameras affixed to the classroom walls; one is pointed at the professor and one is pointed at the students. When the system processes the video, it replaces the bodies of the students and professor with stick figures, which makes it easier to see their body language and facial expressions. 

CMU professor Amy Ogan, who is part of the EduSense team, said a professor using the system can set goals such as wanting to get more attention from students.

Credit Carnegie Mellon University

"So he can see from this, 'Oh, I only stand on the righthand side of the classroom because that's where my podium is and that's where my lecture slides are,'" Ogan said. "[He] only looks at the students right in front, and those are the students paying attention."

The data can reveal, for example, that students farthest from the professor look more often at their laptops, or out the window. The data is anonymized before it reaches the professor, so individual students aren't identifiable. The goal is for professors to look at data accumulated over time to change their own behavior in the classroom.

Ogan said it's common for professors to have no formal training in education, aside from teaching assistant roles during graduate school. Therefore, they may not realize that students pay more attention when the professor walks around and engages with students, rather than staying in one place.

The next step for the EduSense team is to create visualizations of the data, such as graphs and charts, that are useful for professors.

"The app [will show] them resources, it shows them their data and strategies, and then lets them set their goals for the next time they teach," Ogan said.

The system is currently installed in 40 CMU classrooms for research purposes.

WESA receives funding from Carnegie Mellon University.