How does eye tracking work?
Eye tracking is the science of measuring the movement of an individual’s eye in response to visual or auditory stimulus. This is done by means of a contact-free, remote-controlled infrared eye camera with automatic eye and head tracker. The system gives feedback to a real-time operator on gaze-position (where the subject’s gaze was focused), the diameter and position of the pupil, corneal reflex position, tracking status and eye image. It works even if the user is wearing spectacles or contact lenses.
In business and industry, this kind of technology has a myriad of uses: virtual and augmented reality makes use of eye-tracking research to allow gaming designers to create a more immersive gaming experience for their users and fine-tune their interaction platforms.
These days, every business has to compete online and an engaging web presence can make all the difference. Eye-tracking technology can be used to discover how people use websites (or mobile apps) by tracking which part of a page draws the eye, which part is overlooked and where the layout can be reworked to improve usability.
Research at the NWU
In the academic context of the School of Languages, the eye-tracking technology is currently being used in a PhD study investigating the way that learners read Sepedi and English.
By means of eye tracking, the researcher can determine how the learners read and where they struggle. Within the realm of basic education, such information may be used to create intervention programmes and empower learners at a time when poor reading skills and illiteracy are a national problem.
Another project within the school researches the cognitive effort of a learner or student while watching educational videos with subtitles. When the learner is required to read while watching the video at the same time, the question arises as to whether the learner benefits from such a video or experiences information overload.
The answers to such questions could be used to revisit the educational design of materials.
For example, when a student takes a bilingual test, to what extent does he or she use both languages to understand the question? Studies on the use of mind maps as study tools have also been conducted. Some students who use mind maps still seem to struggle with their studies. Why is that?
There seems to be no end to the potential of eye-tracking technology. For example, the School of Languages and private research partners are doing research on flight simulation, focusing on finding the most logical layout for the controls of an aircraft.
One thing is certain: eye-tracking technology is taking off and who knows where it could go in opening up new worlds of possibilities?