Does eye-contact whilst teaching online, make much difference to learning?
At the start of lockdown, most schools scrambled to shift their curriculum online, followed by a ‘Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Hangouts?’ discussion on which would be the most reliable and secure tool to support remote education.
It’s a challenge to find assisted learning research to demonstrate what works best for teachers.
At the beginning of COVID, I learned that size of the video screen does matter, yet there is limited remote education evidence for schools to determine success, particularly the impact on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Does eye contact matter?
In a paper published by Shaanxi Normal University, China, long-before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers sought to establish if ‘teacher behaviour is known to affect learning performance’. It is believed to be the first study to examine the impact of teacher ‘gaze guidance’ in online teaching.
The methodology (n60) “used eye‐tracking technology to test whether the instructor’s gaze guidance affected learners’ visual attention, social presence, and learning performance, using four video lectures: declarative knowledge with and without the instructor’s gaze guidance and procedural knowledge with and without the instructor’s gaze guidance.”
For those teachers I have worked with, you will know I am a huge fan of ‘non-verbal communication‘ in the classroom. “Attentional cues provide non‐content information that can guide learners’ visual attention at the right time to the information taught by the instructor” (Amadieu, Marine, & Laimay, 2011).
Note, nonhuman is defined as “provided by the multimedia representation.”
Pupils need fewer working memory resources to follow the instructor’s gestures than to follow nonhuman cues, as gestures could elicit joint attention, even without awareness of the gestures (Pi et al., 2017a).
For definition, “gaze guidance in video lectures means that the instructor is not merely looking into the camera but switches between looking at the camera and the content representation domain.”
This paper does give teachers some food for thought during COVID, but I’d be keen to know what other influences have an impact, especially if we factor in visually impaired pupils being taught through a video connection.
The researchers conclude, “[teachers] should provide gaze guidance in video lectures for better learning performance.”
Put simply into pragmatic terms, the teacher ‘must gaze’ at the content they present.
The instructor’s gaze guidance in video lectures improves learning. , , ., J Comput Assist Learn. 2019; 35: 42– 50.