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IES Grant

Title: Modeling and Developing Situation Awareness in Teachers
Center: NCER Year: 2007
Principal Investigator: Miller, Kevin Awardee: University of Michigan
Program: Teaching, Teachers, and the Education Workforce      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $816,936
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305U070007

Purpose: A hallmark of expert teachers is their ability to monitor the complex, chaotic environment of a classroom and attend to key features relevant to assessing student understanding. This phenomenon, termed "situation awareness," is central to the performance of many complex activities. We know very little about how teachers manage their attention while teaching, and even less about how this ability develops. This project will develop basic models of situation awareness in teaching and use them to create viewing tasks that may help prospective teachers learn how to watch a classroom. The overarching purpose of this project is to support the development of situation awareness in prospective teachers, so that new teachers can begin their professional life having at least partially mastered the skill of monitoring studying attention and engagement in the course of instruction.

Project Activities: Portable eye-tracking technology allows the tracking of eye-movements in natural contexts, permitting researchers to look, in real time, at the attentional processes of expert teachers and how those skills develop. Coupled with more conventional multi-camera video recordings, researchers are studying the dynamics of teacher attention during teaching, the kinds of events that new and experienced teachers attend to as well as those they miss, and strategies for monitoring students during teaching. The researchers are also studying whether teacher-perspective videos have a special role in training prospective teachers. Finally, the researchers are developing and testing viewing materials based on this research that they will pilot as methods to help prospective teachers learn to watch a classroom.

Products: The outcomes of this research include the development of models of situation awareness in teaching and viewing tasks for prospective teachers. Published reports of this research will also become available.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: This project has two facets. The first is to develop models of the strategies that skilled teachers use in watching a classroom, developing for this domain an understanding of what situation awareness entails. The second is to use these teacher-eye video representations during instruction to help prospective teachers learn to watch classrooms and see what experienced teachers see.

Setting: The setting includes Ann Arbor, Michigan and surrounding areas.

Population: Participants in the research are prospective teachers in training at the University of Michigan and current novice and experienced teachers in surrounding areas.

Intervention: Participants take part in a total of five sessions, each lasting approximately an hour. In the first session, they receive an initial assessment in which they watch vignettes from both teacher and observer perspective and write descriptions of what they notice. This is the same for all participants, after which they are randomly assigned into two conditions. Participants in the first condition watch teacher-perspective classroom video vignettes in small groups, with opportunities to discuss what was observed. The second condition couples this with explicit instruction calling attention to the features and events that experienced teachers notice and novice teachers do not, along with information about how experienced teachers scan classrooms. This instruction begins in the first session and continues through a total of four sessions. The final session consists of an individual assessment, in which participants watch new vignettes on the Tobii eye-tracker while their scanning patterns are assessed. Following each vignette they are asked to produce a free recall discussion of the noteworthy events they observed.

Research Design and Methods: In one set of tasks, the team is collecting teacher-perspective eye-tracking videos from novice and experienced teachers while they teach. These teachers are drawn from elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, and teach a range of content areas. The team is building a model of situation awareness in teachers using the eye-tracking data gathered during the observational studies. The researchers are investigating expert-novice differences primarily with an active low-inference approach which compares expert and novice teachers' behavior directly by using eye-movement behavior as an indicator of complex cognitive processing. In addition, the researchers are developing a set of teacher perspective videos, most of which consist of matched pairs of novice and expert teachers, supplemented by transcripts, traditional video recordings, and teacher commentaries. The team is examining prospective teachers' eye-movement behavior as they watch these teacher perspective videos, and is examining whether watching these videos influences prospective teachers' ability to monitor classrooms.

Control Condition: The basic eye-movement control variables are gaze position (where one is looking), duration of those fixations, and patterns of jumps to new positions, notably refixations on previously viewed positions.

Key Measures: Eye-movement scanning patterns are being gathered. Teacher comments on video lesson vignettes are being coded. Individual assessments are occurring, in which participants watch new vignettes on the Tobii eye-tracker while their scanning patterns are assessed.

Data Analytic Strategy: The basic analyses involve the development of survival models showing how distributions of gaze patterns change across time and expertise. Shifts of attention in the classroom are represented using hidden Markov models of transition matrices of attention to particular students and to the class or the instructional task.

Products and Publications

Cortina, K. S., Miller, K. F., McKenzie, R., & Epstein, A. (2015). Where low and high inference data converge: Validation of CLASS assessment of mathematics instruction using mobile eye tracking with expert and novice teachers. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13 (2), 389–403.

** This project was submitted to and funded as an Unsolicited application in FY 2007.