Higher ed tech developers give K12 teachers new insights

One of the most fertile areas for collaborative problem-solving between colleges and their K12 counterparts may be the mission they share: education.

When edtech developers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania asked K12 teachers to wish for a superpower, the teachers imagined student data hovering in midair before their very eyes.

Wish granted. Lumilo, the artificially intelligent, augmented reality platform being developed at Carnegie Mellon, works with Microsoft HoloLens technology to display icons above students’ heads. These graphics indicate, among other information, whether a student is breezing through an online assignment, struggling or even trying to game the system.

For instance, when wearing the smart glasses, teachers may see a sleepy ZZZ symbol above a student who has stopped working on a problem.

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“I can get instant feedback without having to anchor myself to a computer,” says Richard Underwood Jr., a Pittsburgh Public Schools math teacher who tried the smart glasses, which are still in the testing phase. “I don’t have to run data post-class or constantly hit refresh while sitting in a chair.”

‘Invisible hand-raise’

Ken Holstein, a doctoral candidate in Carnegie Mellon’s school of education who specializes in mixed reality and human/computer interactions, says the human element remains a key to Lumilo. A teacher’s assessment of a student’s body language may not always back up the AI’s analysis.

In one classroom, for instance, the AI alerted a teacher to a student overusing a function that offered hints on math problems. After intervening, the teacher realized the student couldn’t distinguish some of the colors on the screen, Holstein says.

“We’re honestly trying to combine complementary strengths, not replace what teachers are already doing pretty well,” he adds.

When teachers see an icon, they can tap the air—or click a small hand-held device—to get more information, such as a mirror of student’s screen. The teacher can then follow, line by line, as the student solves a math problem.

“The students who need help most may be the least likely to raise their hands,” he says. “The glasses provide an invisible hand-raise.”

The smart glasses have been tested in about 20 classrooms around Pittsburgh, but researchers plan to bring the system to more states in the near future.

The glasses are not yet being tested in higher ed. Such work would require partnering with instructors and students to better understand their needs for support, since they may differ from middle school math contexts, says Holstein.

Underwood, who teaches at CAPA 6-12, an arts magnet school, says the data led him to pull aside individuals or form small groups to whom he could provide direct assistance. “This has great potential in the classroom.” 

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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