School Daze: Eye-Tracking Study Reveals What Earns Students’ Attention in Classroom

A new study contradicts the widely accepted belief that classroom attention peaks during the first 15 minutes of class and then generally tapers off. Instead, David Rosengrant, an associate professor of physics education at Kennesaw State University, discovered that classroom attention is not as linear as previously thought and is actually impacted by various factors throughout the duration of the lecture.

Using eye-tracking Tobii Glasses from Tobii Technology to exam the attention patterns of students in the classroom, the study provides new insight into effective teaching techniques that aim to keep students engaged and motivated to learn during lectures.

“Until now, there has been no first-hand, innate measurement of student attention from the student’s perspective in the classroom,” said Rosengrant. “We were able to measure what the students observe during a lecture, how much of their time is dedicated to the material presented in class and, as an instructor, what are the greatest inhibitors to keeping their attention.”

Rosengrant’s four-month pilot study observed eight college students wearing the special glasses to track their eye-gaze patterns during 70-minute pre-elementary education lectures at Kennesaw State University. He found a number of factors that influence whether students remain on task, or allow their attention to drift.

For example, the verbal presentation of new material that is not contained within the instructor’s PowerPoint, the use of humor by the instructor and the proximity of the instructor to the student, all contribute to greater attention from the student. Rosengrant’s study also concluded that “digital distractions” such as mobile phones and the Web, particularly Facebook, are the greatest inhibitors to retaining students’ attention in the classroom. From these insights, Rosengrant stresses the need for professors to alter their lecture structure through the injection of varying activities and the use of humor to engage students.

Rosengrant will publish the full study, “Studying Student Attention via Eye Tracking” in the fall and will continue to expand his research in order to generate insights that can impact the future of classroom instruction and ultimately, students’ success and the field of teaching.

“I hope that this study enlightens the education community about how to engage students effectively in the classroom, maximize student focus on the material and, ultimately, increase their achievement,” added Rosengrant.