Monday, 5 March 2012

Automatic i+1

Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

Good advice for snipers and now teachers too, apparently.

Daniel Kahneman recalls in Thinking, Fast and Slow how he began his career in the fledgling discipline of cognitive pupillometry.

He and his colleague discovered that the pupil expands and contracts in response to mental cognition.

The harder the task, the more the pupil expands, at least up to a point.

That point is reached when the average person is asked to add 3 to every digit in a four-digit number.

If people are asked to do anything more complex than that, it is deemed too hard and the pupils contract back to normal.

Equally, tasks which require little mental effort, such as small talk, reveal only tiny enlargements of the pupil.

 It seems, then, that if we look into the eyes of our learners when they are dealing with English, we can see how much of an effort it is for them by the size of their pupils.

Although it is a useful additional insight, I suspect most teachers can already identify how engaged a learner is, or how difficult or easy they are finding an article or some new grammar without having to stare into their eyes.

However, in a class of 20 learners or more, I suspect it is more difficult to gauge anything other than the aggregate of the most outspoken members of the class.

Whether we raise the level of input in such situations or reduce it in response to learners' understanding is more of a moot point when we have to detect subtle differences in behaviour, attitude, posture and, of course, language use across so many people.

But in the language class of the future, it would be possible to employ pupillometers which can measure reactions in everyone in the class.

This information, at least the salient part of it, such as a critical mass of condensed pupils, could then be flashed up on a Heads Up Display on the teacher's glasses like the ones currently found on skiing goggles.

It would also be possible to employ such technology in an interactive learning package for individual use on a PC or tablet, allowing the learning programme to modify itself according to the learner's pupil dilations.

Pupillomatic language learning: it's a brave new world and you heard it here first!

(Image: WP CLipart)

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