Acer and UTS trial classroom program that monitors student movements

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) announced on Wednesday a laptop-based pilot program that aims to provide a better understanding of learning behaviour and devise new methods to improve the attention of students while in class.

The pilot program, called the UTS x Acer Leaner Attention Analytics Pilot Program, uses laptops to collect data on the hand gestures, eye movements, as well as mouse, keyboard, and digital pen movements of students.

The program does not capture facial images or track the movement of other facial features, the company added.

The program is currently being piloted by 200 UTS data science students attending classes at the university’s Data Arena. Acer Oceania managing director Darren Simmons told ZDNet the program is also likely to be piloted at four secondary private schools, with St John Paul College among those expected to sign up for the trial.

Students can opt out, by not signing a consent form, if they do not wish to partake in the pilot program.

It is currently only Windows-based, but Simmons claimed the program was not built for a specific OS as it is aimed at “building a platform for education”.

According to UTS, the program has three phases: Data collection, behavioural data analytics, and proof-of-concept-development. It is currently in its initial phase of collecting data from students. This will be followed by the behavioural data analytics phase, where the collected data will be analysed by artificial intelligence and machine learning to establish behaviour patterns with the learning outcomes of students.

UTS and Acer then aim to develop a proof-of-concept platform that would correlate the level of attention of students to certain learning outcomes for its final phase.

“The aim of [pilot program] is to create an education industry blueprint that can generate tailored personalised learning programs according to learners’ behaviour patterns,” UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT executive director of data science Fang Chen said.

Acer and UTS did not provide a date for when the trial would be complete.

Australia’s education technology sector has grown steadily in recent years, with a school in Victoria trialling a companion robot last year to help teachers with special needs students.

The Australia government in August also kicked off a trial last year that saw surveillance cameras placed in classrooms at various private schools to monitor the behaviour of students. The trial was set to roll out to state-run schools, before Victorian Education Minister James Merlino blocked the initiative, calling it “Big Brother-like”.

On the topic of consent, Victoria’s Information Commissioner Bleummel said in February, that parental sign off is not a sufficient safeguard, particularly when parents might feel obliged to say yes only to avoid having their child ostracised, posing the question that it might not be a fully voluntary consent given.

Australia’s education tech sector is expected to grow to AU$1.7 billion by 2022, Acer said.

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