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Science, Maths & Technology

Eye tracking in research and evaluation

Updated Wednesday, 4th September 2013

Ever wondered how eye tracking works and why The Open University should be interested in using it?

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Eye tracking gaze plot Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license A gaze plot Here in the Jennie Lee Research labs at The Open University we use eye tracking equipment to identify where a person is looking when using either a computer screen or in a physical environment.

Why use it?

Eye tracking enables us to use unobtrusive data collection when a person is using a web page or piece of software.

This means we can identify what people focus on when using a web page. Mobile eye trackers can enable eye tracking studies for people who are moving about in real-world environments.

How eye tracking works

Infrared illuminators built into the screen or in the mobile eye tracker glasses, invisible to the human eye, create reflection patterns on the cornea of the eyes, which the image sensors use to register the image of the user’s eyes.

The image processor finds the eyes, detects the exact position of the pupil and identifies the correct reflections from the illuminators and their positions.

A mathematical model calculates the eye position in space and the point of gaze.

Eye tracking results with participant Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license At the start of an eye tracking session, the system calibrates the user’s eyes to ensure it is tracking them correctly (it copes with users wearing glasses or contact lenses).

The system records what the user is looking at throughout the session. For screen-based eye tracking, the researcher observes the live gaze on a separate screen which shows eye movement, overlaid as a red blob with a trail, moving around the screen.

In mobile studies, eye tracking glasses record the user gaze then the data is downloaded into the system for analysis.

Eye tracking analysis software uses heat-maps and gaze-plots to illustrate what has attracted attention.

Data collected includes visualisations (a list of web pages and who has looked at them) and the gaze plot showing order of gaze, length of fixation and time elapsed.

Different gaze plots for each web page can be compared in the analysis software and each recording played back in real time, showing the order of gaze with the audio recording. Heat-maps show where the eye has lingered the longest.

Eye tracking results Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Researchers also use an ‘area of interest’ tool which provides quantitative data to measure and compare different places on a screen.

This analysis software allows data interpretation and recommendation of design and navigation improvements.

Other optional analysis tools include Cluster, Bee Swarm, data exported to statistical or video analysis software, depending on the depth of analysis needed.

The eye tracker can reveal problems with a website, software or learning materials very quickly and provide visual evidence to help a development team solve usability issues.

The mobile eye tracker provides data on studies involving physical objects or things displayed on large displays or projection screens, for example interactive TV, actual print media and physical product design and packaging.

How we’ve used eye tracking for learning

We are always aiming to help our students to learn more effectively and easily.

The Open Languages Research Group used Eye tracking data to reveal Chinese language learning amongst beginner students.

The team needed to explore the learner perspective during synchronous online language tutorials for learning Chinese, to enhance our Beginners’ Chinese module.

In this research study ten mature learners of Beginners’ Chinese participated in eye tracking and stimulated recall interviews using the eye tracker data.

The team were able to use the eye tracker for comparing the reading skills of different learners in a static reading task, depending on their level of Chinese.

It showed some clear differences in the way parts of the language tool were used depending on the level of individual Chinese reading skills.

Two people with eye tracking results Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Eye tracking also helped them observe the way that interactive tasks of reading and speaking during a synchronous tutorial were utilised by the students and tutor to advance their learning and teaching.

Preliminary findings revealed learner strategies when using Pinyin support text (which the study revealed can sometimes undermine learning strategies for some students).

The eye tracking studies of synchronous online tutorials showed the extent to which students used social presence of others in the session when learning.

This research is useful as it can potentially allow language teachers participating in targeted training understand the cognitive load on students when learning online.

Jennie Lee Research Laboratories at The Open University

One of the Jennie Lee Research labs is equipped with Tobii eye tracker equipment Tobii T60/T120 eye tracker for on-screen studies and Tobii Glasses for mobile studies.

You can read a case study or more about our eye tracking services.

We are always interested in helping you use the eye tracking equipment or to help you set up any other research studies here in the Jennie Lee Research labs, so please contact us.





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