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Mobile Eye Tracking Research in Inclusive Classrooms: Children’s Experiences



The increasing pervasiveness of inclusive educational environments poses an urgent need to implement research methodologies and practices that could shed light on how children's social interactions unfold in such contexts. Our work explores the use of mobile eye tracking technology in naturalistic, inclusive K12 education settings towards a richer understanding of the children's interactive behaviours. This paper presents the children's responses to, experiences with and impressions about the naturalness of using mobile eye tracking glasses during a collaborative group task. Results highlight the importance of understanding the children's experiences to foster naturalistic research environments that closely reflect real-life complexity. Our work contributes towards the deployment of research designs in naturalistic contexts, providing important clues towards the collection of ecologically valid real-world data.
Mobile Eye Tracking Research in Inclusive
Classrooms: Childrens Experiences
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Abstract The increasing pervasiveness of inclusive
educational environments poses an urgent need to implement
research methodologies and practices that could shed light on
how childrens social interactions unfold in such contexts. Our
work explores the use of mobile eye tracking technology in
naturalistic, inclusive K12 education settings towards a richer
understanding of the children’s interactive behaviours. This
paper presents the childrens responses to, experiences with and
impressions about the naturalness of using mobile eye tracking
glasses during a collaborative group task. Results highlight the
importance of understanding the childrens experiences to foster
naturalistic research environments that closely reflect real-life
complexity. Our work contributes towards the deployment of
research designs in naturalistic contexts, providing important
clues towards the collection of ecologically valid real-world data.
Keywords naturalistic research settings, multimodal data
collection, K12 education
Mobile eye tracking technology has emerged as a powerful
tool to understand the gaze behaviour of people in their natural
contexts, as applied in various fields of investigation including
autism research [1], marketing [2], sports [3], and psychology
(e.g., attention to affect stimuli [4]), to name a few. This is
because eye movements, i.e., gaze behaviour, have been
reported to be strongly coupled with visual attention and
cognitive processes, highlighting the focus and main interest of
the observer [5]. Gaze behaviour also plays a fundamental role
during social interaction, which encourages its use as a
standard measure, for instance, in autism research, since
interaction with peers have been found to be challenging for
children on the autism spectrum (AS)[6]. Research using eye
tracking technology has shown, for example, that children on
the AS have a reduced tendency to look at an adult’s face
during a storytelling situation, yet such tendency has not been
found to exist in cognitive testing situations with an
experimenter, highlighting the importance of understanding the
interactional context in which gaze is examined [7].
Fig. 1. Naturalistic multimodal data collection setting in our research
With the increasingly pervasive change around the world
towards implementing inclusive learning environments, there is
a pressing need to explore how interactions are carried out in
such educational contexts, to effectively support the learning
experience and social participation of all involved. To this, our
work implements an experimental research design to capture
natural interactions among children on the AS and neurotypical
children during collaborative tasks in naturalistic inclusive
classrooms through multimodal data collection mechanisms.
An important part of our research endeavour focuses on
exploring the role of mobile eye tracking technology and how
it can be successfully deployed to capture gaze behaviour in
inclusive classrooms (Fig. 1). Mobile eye tracking devices
could offer suitable affordances in terms of capturing user’s
gaze behaviour while imposing less restrictions on physical
movement [8], thus supporting more naturalness during data
collection. However, there are scarce reports on childrens
experiences and perceptions about using these devices,
particularly in a naturalistic inclusive classroom setting.
Addressing this gap, we present childrens experiences on how
natural and unobtrusive they perceived using mobile eye
tracking glasses is during a collaborative small-group task. We
also discuss the affordances of this technology for
implementing research in inclusive educational settings.
A. Eye tracking Technology
Eye tracking systems are designed to measure where the
user directs their gaze on objects or computer screens and the
amount of time that they look at the area of interest [9]. That is,
eye tracking devices provide information about where, how
long and how many times users look at, where their current and
past attention is concentrated at, supporting inferences to their
intention and mental state. In this context, it is possible to
obtain information about brain cognitive processes by
observing and interpreting eye movements, as there is a high
correlation between the place one looks at and what one thinks
[10]. For example, longer eye fixations, which is one of the eye
movement parameters, expresses mental processes intensity,
whereas values such as gaze fixations number, average fixation
time, and total gaze time are closely related to learning process
in reading and information processing [11]. Hence, eye
tracking systems not only show people's gaze behaviour
patterns, but also provide information about people's cognitive
processes and comprehension, memory, visual description, and
decision-making processes [12].
Eye tracking systems are typically in one of two forms:
mobile or screen-based eye tracking devices. Screen-based eye
tracking devices consist of a camera lens attached to the
bottom or side of a computer screen, thus requiring users to be
stationary and sitting across the device with minimal freedom
of movement (e.g., SMI RED
, Tobii Spectrum
). Mobile eye
tracking devices, on the other hand, are mounted on the user's
head in the form of eyeglasses, provide an advantage as they
capture the direct point of view of the user, regardless of the
user's movement (e.g., SMI ETG
, Tobii Glasses
, Pupil
). These devices can be wireless or attached to a power
source that the user can carry with them, allowing free
mobility. While the main advantage of mobile eye trackers is
this greater freedom of mobility, in both types of systems users'
physical movements may cause losses in capturing the points
viewed. For this reason, eye tracking tests require thorough
efforts for their initial setup, including making sure that an
appropriate geometry between the eye of the participant and
the eye tracking device is created and calibration is done with
respect to this initial geometry [13]. The calibration process is
key to ensure accuracy of the data collected and activates the
eye tracking system by measuring a collection of physiological
characteristics of a persons eye [9].
B. Eye tracking in Autism Research
Current technology holds great potential for teaching and
learning activities in the special education area. Alternative
ways of interaction with computers, fast-responding
processors, high-definition animated graphics, and
communication or collaboration over the internet facilitate
better learning environments for students, teachers, and
parents. There is a growing need for developing new
technology-based educational intervention programs for
students with special needs, yet our knowledge about how to
utilise emerging technologies in special education research is
still limited [14]. A promising approach to address this need
stems from the use of eye tracking technologies. For example,
Klin et al. [15] show that eye tracking technologies are an
effective way to see and measure where people focus in
complex social situations. Hence, we could expect eye tracking
technologies to contribute to autism research through
supporting the implementation of technology-based studies, as
eye trackers directly measure visual and social attention, which
could capture the visual behaviour of children on the AS and
their tendencies. In this regard, research focusing on examining
the visual scanning skills of children on the AS has been shown
to be useful in determining the mechanisms underlying social
problems and their nature ([16]; [17]; [18]). These promising
studies contribute to understanding the risks of autism from
infancy and guide early intervention practises with the
information obtained. Overall, by using eye tracking to capture
the gaze behaviours of individuals on the AS, researchers can
better understand differences between individuals on the AS
and typical development. These studies shed light on
challenges related to social interaction, language and cognitive
development, as well as advance the understanding of the
nature and development of the autism spectrum.
Although studies with children on the AS using mobile eye
tracking devices are reported, the research has been generally
implemented in structured laboratory settings [19], which
provides careful control but problematic generalisation of the
findings [20]. Developing research with children on the AS in
their familiar, natural context, i.e., at school, could foster a
better understanding of how their social interactions are
developed in real-world situations. Mobile eye tracking devices
could offer suitable affordances in terms of capturing user’s
gaze behaviour while imposing less restrictions on movements
[8]. Therefore, there is a need to understand how natural and
unobtrusive children perceive using mobile eye tracking
devices is in a naturalistic research context. This is important to
ensure the collection of more realistic, ecologically valid eye
tracking data.
Our research implements a multimethod approach with the
aim to explore how children on the AS and neurotypical
children interact in the context of inclusive classrooms. To
achieve this, we realise a research design using mobile eye
tracking glasses and video cameras to capture social
interactions during group work. As the research aims at
collecting data in naturalistic settings, there is a need to
understand how natural children perceive/experience the use of
mobile eye tracking glasses to be. This is important, as the
quality of the data is supported by the childrens natural
behaviours during the data collection process. In our research
design we use the theory of triangulation, defined as “the
multiple employment of sources of data, observers, methods, or
theories” [21], to foster a richer understanding and deeper
dimensions of interpretations of a phenomenon ([22]; [23]). In
the present study, which is a part of a larger research
endeavour, triangulation is achieved through analysing the
collected feedback forms and video recordings to better
understand children's experiences with mobile eye tracking
A. Mobile Eye tracking Glasses Metadata Feedback Form
In our study, we use mobile eye tracking glasses in a
naturalistic inclusive classroom setting. To capture the
experiences of children wearing the glasses, we administered a
feedback form at the end of each data collection session (see
Section IV.B). The form measured with a 100 mm scale (0 and
100 at the extremes) the children’s experiences during the data
collection session through several questions. In this paper we
focus on analysing the answers concerning:
Research Equipment (mobile eye tracking glasses,
cameras, etc.) the research equipment bothered me
the research equipment did not bother me.
In the feedback form, children could mark using pen and
paper the place that best described their experience with the
research equipment.
B. Video Camera Data
Video recordings are a well-known data collection method
in autism research [24]. In our study, video recordings provide
a complementary layer for capturing candid social interactions
related to the childrens perceptions about, and experiences
with, the mobile eye tracking glasses.
A. Participants
29 children (age 10-12 years, 4th - 5th grade, 18 males) from
3 different schools in Finland participated in the study.
Children in each school were divided in small groups of 3,
familiar to each other. Among the participants, 3 children had
official AS diagnoses and 5 children showed autistic traits (as
assessed by the Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire
(ASSQ)) or some other official neurodevelopmental diagnosis
[25]. For data analysis, children were divided into 3 categories:
children with no diagnosis (n=21), children with autistic traits
and/or other neurodevelopmental diagnosis (n=5), and children
on the AS (n=3).
B. Data Collection
43 data collection sessions of about 45 minutes each were
carried out during 2020-2021 distributed among the 3
participating schools. Each session was structured as indicated
in Table I. Childrens feedback form about the research
equipment (metadata), alongside video recordings (during
mobile eye tracking setup on, and removal from, the childrens
head) were used for the analysis presented in this paper.
Time (minutes)
Activity description
Before the
Devices setup, video cameras positioning, mobile eye
tracking system assembly
During the
Welcome, introduction to researchers and equipment
Mobile eye trackers setup on participants
Introductory game (researchers-planned ludative task)
Group work (curricular task planned by the teacher)
Feedback form data collection session (metadata)
Removing mobile eye trackers from participants
After the
Initiate data transfer and devices setup
The sitting arrangements for the participating groups of
children varied according to the facilities of their classrooms
but whenever possible the groups where gender mixed (Fig. 2).
Each child in the small group had their own mobile eye
tracking device.
Fig. 2. Sitting arrangement during data collection. The * represents the child
on the AS (or with AS traits/other special needs). Left) school 1; centre)
school 2; right) school 3
C. Ethical Statement
The implementation of the study followed the procedures
of ethically sustainable research manifested in the principles of
the Finnish National Advisory Board of Research Ethics. The
research protocols were also approved by the Committee on
Research Ethics of the University. The informants, i.e., all
participating children, and the children’s parents/legal
guardians, were provided information concerning the aims,
methods, implementation and data management of the study
before asking them for written informed consent to participate
in the study. The participants were recruited on a voluntary
basis from inclusive schools that were interested in
participating in the research. All data collected is considered
private and highly confidential and it is not used for purposes
outside the research before obtaining written consent from the
participants and/or their legal guardian.
A. Children Feedback on Mobile Eye tracking Devices
N=122 feedback forms from the data collection sessions
were received from the participants. Fig. 3 shows the feedback
about the obtrusiveness of the research equipment as perceived
by the children. The feedback indicated that children found the
research equipment, i.e., mobile eye tracking glasses and video
cameras in the classroom, (somewhat) unobtrusive in over 70%
of the cases.
Fig. 3. Childrens feedback on the obtrusiveness of the research equipment
B. Childrens Experiences of Wearing Mobile Eye Trackers
To explore the candid perceptions and experiences that the
children had about using the mobile eye tracking glasses, we
carried out a preliminary analysis of the video recorded data
(n=43). The video analysis focused on childrens answers to
direct researchers questions, such as "how do the glasses
feel?", or children's spontaneous verbal expressions toward the
glasses during setup and calibration (3-5 minutes) as well as
during removal (1-2 minutes). We identified the following
themes from the childrens reactions towards the eye tracking
1) Mobile eye tracking glasses function
Many children were curious about the structure and
functions of the device and asked questions such as whether
they can move while having the glasses on or how it feels
when the eye tracking cameras are recording. A child said: so,
you cannot feel that they [mobile eye tracking glasses
cameras] are recording, you know, when we are working.
Children were also commenting about what their peers were
seeing through the glasses during the peers eye tracking
glasses calibration, as they could see the video feed in the
researchers computer screen this was a brief moment for
them to see through the eyes of their classmates.
2) Mobile eye tracking glasses look and feel
The novelty of the device prompted the children to pay
attention to how they and their peers looked like while wearing
the glasses. This is apparent in about one-fourth of the
participating children, who commented that the peers looked
strange or funny with the glasses or expressed that the glasses
felt “quite strange” or looked “not nice” on them, or that the
glasses made them feel like the lesson (i.e., the research
session) was not an ordinary lesson. For instance, one child
said to his classmate you look normal again! at the end of the
session. A child with prescribed lenses also said, double
glasses dont feel nice. Nevertheless, most typically, children
answered that the glasses felt good when the researcher
asked, and some children said that they could even forget they
had glasses on.
3) Mobile eye tracking glasses physical effects
The children voiced various physical effects that wearing
the mobile eye tracking glasses had on them. These included
difficulties to see clearly with the glasses on, restricted field of
vision due the handles of the glasses or the perception of the
environment looking a bit different when seen through the
glasses. Few children complained about the glasses hurting
their nose bridge or leaving a mark there. Nevertheless, some
children expressed that glasses hurt at the beginning, not
anymore, indicating that the felt discomfort disappeared with
use, and most of the children did not refer to any negative
effects while wearing the glasses.
4) Playful interactions with mobile eye tracking glasses
Some children used playful interactions while familiarising
themselves with wearing the mobile eye tracking devices. A
child who wore eye tracking glasses over his own prescription
glasses said to his peers: I have six eyes, seven [eyes]…one,
two, three, four, five, six, seven while pointing to his eyes, the
lenses of his eyeglasses, the lenses of the eye tracking glasses
and the front camera of the eye tracking glasses. The child also
pointed out that the front camera of the glasses was a third
eye and said that he was like a terminator wearing the
glasses. The children were also very aware of making
conscious eye/face contact with each other, as indicated by one
child saying at the end of the session so now last eye
contact!. The playful interactions generally prompted a
relaxed atmosphere as the children talked of getting funny
facial expressions recorded using the glasses or commented on
the funny looks of themselves and/or their peers.
5) Understanding the devices through own experiences
Since all the participating children had never physically
seen or worn mobile eye tracking glasses before the data
collection sessions, we notice that children deployed a strategy
to support their familiarisation with these devices: they
compared wearing the mobile eye tracking glasses to known
experiences. For instance, one child expressed that the glasses
calibration process, where a marker was shown to the user so
that they fixate the gaze on the marker, prompted the child to
talk about his experiences with eye examination, while another
child compared the eye tracking glasses to new floorball
glasses. Children that were used to wearing prescribed lenses
commented that the feeling of wearing mobile eye tracking
glasses was not completely new to them. One child particularly
expressed that the mobile eye tracking glasses were similar to
his normal glasses in that he should not touch the lenses.
The feedback form data shows differences in the perception
of how natural and unobtrusive the devices (i.e., mobile eye
tracking glasses and video cameras) were during group work:
children without diagnosis and children with autistic traits
found the devices to be more obtrusive (7% and 9% of the
cases respectively) than children on the AS, who reported the
devices to be only somewhat obtrusive (13% of the cases). All
children, however, reported that the devices were mostly
(somewhat) unobtrusive (Fig. 3).
The children’s video recorded candid expressions and
interactions as they wore the mobile eye tracking glasses
complement the collected feedback forms. We observed that
the children deployed several strategies to cope with the new
situation that required them to wear a device they had never
touched before: playful interactions and seeing the glasses
through experiences that were familiar to them. The novelty of
the devices also prompted their curiosity and their imagination
to understand the devices function (recording what they saw),
affordances (freedom of movement), as well as their own self-
awareness (how they and others look when wearing the
glasses). We also noticed that children quickly became familiar
with the mobile eye tracking devices to the point where even if
some discomfort was felt at the beginning of the session, it was
not noticeable by the end of it (around 35 minutes interval).
Our work answers the call for deploying research studies to
capture social interactions using technology in naturalistic
environments in autism research ([26]; [27]). As such we
consider it of fundamental importance to listen to the children’s
voices, not only through formal feedback but also through their
intuitive reactions at the moment of encountering an emerging
technology, in particular during data collection in naturalistic
settings. From this perspective, our work is novel in that we
present children’s opinions and experiences in the natural
setting where they formed paying attention whether the
devices bother the children or not and how. From this, we can
put forward the following recommendations:
Though mobile eye tracking glasses afford greater
freedom of movement, attention is needed when setting
the devices on childrens head so that the setting
minimises discomfort (i.e., due equipments nose bridge
size and tightness behind the head). Allowing the
children to adjust the glasses themselves, while
supervising them, should also be considered.
It is essential to listen to the childrens voices, beyond
the formal feedback and act accordingly. We observed
that children expressed richer insights about their
experiences with the technology during candid
interactions at the beginning and at the end of the data
collection sessions, beyond considering the glasses to
be unobtrusive (as they indicated in the feedback form).
This supported the personalisation of the mobile eye
tracking glasses for each child in terms of minimising
It is important to foster a relaxed and psychologically/
emotionally safe atmosphere during the data collection
sessions. Encouraging childrens questions about the
equipment and allowing them to express their views and
first impressions without censoring could support their
natural behaviour throughout the data collection.
This paper explored the childrens perceptions about and
experiences with mobile eye tracking glasses, used as data
collection tools in naturalistic, inclusive classroom settings. We
argued that listening to participating childrens voices is
important towards capturing their natural behaviours, including
social interactions, particularly when deploying research
investigations in naturalistic settings using technologies such as
mobile eye tracking devices. This study is part of a larger
research endeavour towards developing and implementing
research design with multimodal data collection in naturalistic
inclusive education environments. Future work will see the
further analysis of the collected multimodal data towards
providing important clues in terms of supporting collaborative
practises in inclusive classrooms.
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Autism is characterised by difficulties in social functioning, notably in interactions with other people. Yet, most studies addressing social difficulties have used static images or, at best, videos of social stimuli, with no scope for real interaction. Here, we study one crucial aspect of social interactions-gaze behaviour-in an interactive setting. First, typical individuals were shown videos of an experimenter and, by means of a deception procedure, were either led to believe that the experimenter was present via a live video-feed or was pre-recorded. Participants' eye movements revealed that when passively viewing an experimenter they believed to be "live," they looked less at that person than when they believed the experimenter video was pre-recorded. Interestingly, this reduction in viewing behaviour in response to the believed "live" presence of the experimenter was absent in individuals high in autistic traits, suggesting a relative insensitivity to social presence alone. When participants were asked to actively engage in a real-time interaction with the experimenter, however, high autistic trait individuals looked significantly less at the experimenter relative to low autistic trait individuals. The results reinforce findings of atypical gaze behaviour in individuals high in autistic traits, but suggest that active engagement in a social interaction may be important in eliciting reduced looking. We propose that difficulties with the spatio-temporal dynamics associated with real social interactions rather than underlying difficulties processing the social stimulus itself may drive these effects. The results underline the importance of developing ecologically valid methods to investigate social cognition. Autism Res 2016. © 2016 The Authors Autism Research published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of International Society for Autism Research.
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Attention to socio-emotional stimuli (i.e., affect-biased attention) is an integral component of emotion regulation and human communication. Given the strong link between maternal affect and adolescent behavior, maternal affect may be a critical influence on adolescent affect-biased attention during mother-child interaction. However, prior methodological constraints have precluded fine-grained examinations of factors such as maternal affect on adolescent attention during real-world social interaction. Therefore, this pilot study capitalized on previously-validated technological advances by using mobile eye tracking and facial affect coding software to quantify the influence of maternal affect on adolescents’ attention to the mother during a conflict discussion. Results from 7,500-9,000 timepoints sampled for each mother-daughter dyad (n=28) indicated that both negative and positive maternal affect, relative to neutral, elicited more adolescent attentional avoidance of the mother (ORs=2.68-9.20), suggesting that typically-developing adolescents may seek to avoid focusing on maternal affect of either valence during a conflict discussion. By examining the moment-to-moment association between in vivo displays of maternal affect and subsequent adolescent attention toward the mother’s face, these results provide preliminary evidence that maternal affect moderates adolescent attention. Our findings are consistent with cross-species approach-avoidance models suggesting that offspring respond to affectively-charged conversations with greater behavioral avoidance or deference.
Overwhelmingly, autism research is carried out within a medical deficit model, with emphasis on quantifiable results that can be applied to cohorts of affected people. This paper addresses some of the methodological issues surrounding quantification research. Using the coding and categorisation instructions from an earlier quantification study as an example (Jones & Schwartz, 2009), it shows some of the practical difficulties inherent in coding naturally occurring data. It explores these coding and categorisation choices when analysing data collected from children diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome through the qualitative research methodology of conversation analysis. It discusses why it is important for qualitative researchers to respond to, and intersect with, quantitative analyses of atypical interaction.
Research in cognitive science typically places a boundary between participants and the stimuli they are asked to process. While this separation affords experimental control, it can also severely limit the generalizability of the conclusions that are drawn. Here, we review new evidence that some conclusions that have been drawn about social attention do not extend beyond the laboratory. They fundamentally misrepresent how social attention operates in natural social contexts. Critically, these difficulties have led to renewed interest in the dual function of gaze—when in authentic social situations, the eyes both collect information from the environment (an encoding function) and communicate one’s mental states to others (a signaling function)—which traditional social-attention paradigms arguably have failed to capture. We review this recent work and discuss the utility of adopting more naturalistic methods in cognitive science.
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