Confused? Your computer can sense it

Computers can monitor students’ facial expressions and evaluate their engagement or frustration, according to North Carolina State researchers. That could help teachers track students’ understanding in real time, notes MIT Technology Review.

Perhaps it could even help massively open online courses (or MOOCs), which can involve many thousands of students working remotely, to be more attuned to students’ needs.

It also hints at what could prove to be a broader revolution in the application of emotion-sensing technology. Computers and other devices that identify and respond to emotion—a field of research known as “affective computing”—are starting to emerge from academia. They sense emotion in various ways; some measure skin conductance, while others assess voice tone or facial expressions.

The NC State experiment involved college students who were using JavaTutor software to learn to write code. The monitoring software’s conclusions about students’ state of mind matched their self reports closely.

“Udacity and Coursera have on the order of a million students, and I imagine some fraction of them could be persuaded to turn their webcams on,” says Jacob Whitehill, who works at Emotient, a startup exploring commercial uses of affective computing. “I think you would learn a lot about what parts of a lecture are working and what parts are not, and where students are getting confused.”

PBS: Teachers like technology

Teachers value educational technology, according to a survey by PBS LearningMedia released for Digital Learning Day. Three-quarters of teachers surveyed said technology helps them expand on content, motivate students and respond to different learning styles.

Nearly half (48%) of teachers surveyed reported using technology for online lesson plans, and just under half use technology to give students access to web-based educational games or activities (45%). Additionally, teachers use online video, images and articles (43%). Sixty-five percent of teachers reported that technology allows them to demonstrate something they cannot show in any other way.

Ninety percent of teachers surveyed have access to at least one PC or laptop for their classrooms; 59 percent use an interactive whiteboard. Access to a tablet or e-reader is growing rapidly, from 20 percent to 35 percent of teachers in a year.

$610,000 settles spycam case

Two students photographed in their bedrooms by their school-issued laptops have settled with the Lower Merion School District in suburban Philadelphia. The district will pay $610,000, Wired reports. One student gets $175,000, the other gets $10,000 and the rest goes their lawyers.

 School officians say the webcams were activated only if a computer was reported lost or stolen. The 6,900-pupil district lends free MacBooks to high school students.

The original suit was based on a claim by (Blake) Robbins, a sophomore at the time, that school officials reprimanded him for “improper behavior” based on photos the computer secretly took of the boy at home last fall. One picture shows him asleep at home last October.

That “behavior” turned out to be pill popping. The family said their son was eating Mike and Ike candy, his lawyer claimed.

The district says its insurance will pay the full cost of the litigation.  Prosecutors announced two months ago that no criminal charges will be filed.

India unveils $10 laptop

India’s new 500-rupee ($10) laptop, the world’s cheapest computer, will be the centerpiece of an e-learning program to link 18,000 colleges and 400 universities.  “A number of publishers have reportedly agreed to upload portions of their textbooks on to the system,” reports The Guardian.

Will the computer really cost only $10? So far, the cheapest computers cost $200.