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Design boosts e-learning uptake

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Researchers at the Informatics Design Labs at the University of Pretoria (UP) are using eye-tracking technology to improve an e-learning platform currently being rolled out in several public and private schools.
In some Gauteng schools, textbooks are very much last season. Instead, teachers and learners are using tablets to keep textbooks and notes in one place. But it’s not clear how well this system works for the teachers or the learners.
Professor Helene Gelderblom, Associate Professor of the Department of Informatics at UP, and her team are using eye-tracking to understand and improve use of the e-learning programme. This platform, developed by a company called ITSI, is used by about 7 000 students at 175 schools in South Africa.
The system allows learners to keep all their books in one place, provides support for teachers, and encourages the use of modern technology in a blended learning environment. Using the platform, teachers can turn normal e-books into interactive e-learning environments by providing assessments and linking the textbooks to websites and multimedia content.
Using eye-tracking and participatory design through interviews with students, Gelderblom and her research group are trying to better understand the attitudes people have towards this new learning platform. To this end, they asked users to engage with common procedures like viewing and annotating e-textbooks or generating chapter and section summaries.
Although the research is not conclusive yet, Gelderblom hopes that their findings will improve the use and uptake of the innovative learning platform.
The researchers are about to start on a pilot study at public schools in the Western Cape to provide feedback to the Western Cape Education Department on whether ITSI’s high-tech teaching platform can improve learning outcomes in schools. If successful, the programme may be rolled out to a wider group of South African schools.