The University of Technology Sydney today launched a new analytics lab in its Sydney campus and revealed details on it student engagement tracking study. The new lab is for UTS researchers working with data heavy applications and is fitted out with the latest gaming hardware from Acer.

The hardware manufacturer says its gaming line is more capable of analysing data and running analytics applications than traditional business IT.

Acer has an ongoing partnership with UTS to research the learning behaviour of students by monitoring engagement with peripheral and eye tracking sensors. That study was updated today at the opening of the UTS x Acer Predator Analytics Lab, which is also open to the wider UTS engineering faculty.

So far over 50 secondary students from John Paul College and over 50 from UTS under and postgrad programs have participated in the study. UTS says the research is helping to uncover learning patterns and potentially creates an opportunity to “personalise” students’ learning.

Distinguished Professor Fang Chen, Executive Director of Data Science UTS, told Which-50 the university wants to move education beyond a “tick the box” approach, because while students may achieve the same eventual result – “tick the box” – their engagement and what is required to achieve the result can differ significantly.

Professor Fang Chen, executive director of data science and distinguished professor (FEIT), UTS. Source: UTS.edu.au

“Engagement patterns [can be] totally different. You can tell the difference and then pick out [a student] that needs some help in some different subjects.”

By knowing engagement levels, Chen says, many more possibilities to support students open up. This could include more exercises, more attention from educators, and the creation of the students own best practices by also examining times of high engagement.

The study is currently tracking the use of computer peripherals, including what is input, as well as students’ gaze on screen, delivering the data through a realtime dashboard. 

The study is still in a pilot phase but UTS and Acer will now roll it out to more schools and have targeted 2020 for a full live trial.

Chen says, the study follows strict ethical guidelines and UTS collects its own students’ explicit consent to be tracked. The consent of secondary school students and parents is managed by individual schools.

Acer executives said the company will roll the program out to other sectors, starting with ones that intersect with education; like government, but for now the focus is on edutech, a market Acer says will grow to $1.7 billion in Australia by 2022.

Why Gaming hardware?

The new lab contains Acer’s latest “high performance and cutting edge” gaming technology, according to Rod Bassi, Acer sales director for the oceanic region. That sort of horsepower, typically reserved for high frame rate graphically intense games, is now needed for business and research applications, according to Bassi.

“In order to compute and to create the solutions that we’re collaborating UTS on it’s become evident that the hardware that needs to be part of the ingredients needs to be at that upper end of the cutting edge scale so that we can actually compute accordingly and simulate environments and situations in the right way,” Bassi said at the launch.

The lab contains several Predator PCs and laptops as well as two “Thronos” all in one gaming chairs as well as a dedicated VR and AR machine.

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