Bio Feedback Technology

We’ve just purchased a set of Bio feedback technology that has been used by other research to look specifically at emotional responses to gaming. The product is ProComp Biograph Infniti and we’ve bought it with a number of different sensors to pick up things such as  Surface Electromyography, Skin Conductivity and EKG heart rate monitoring.

This rich data can be provided alongside other types of data and we’re therefore going to use it with our purpose built Research Labs along with eye tracking technology and other video data that we capture during our testing work. This should allow us to get a much more detailed picture of the level of engagement and immersion within game play and indeed other forms of online interaction such as within virtual worlds and other online web environments. I’m really looking forward to trying it out. We’ve got plans to also extend this work beyond the labs themselves so we can look at monitoring people in their own social contexts and seeing if this makes a difference.

We are also considering developing a joint research bid with the Speckled Computing people again extending the work we do in the labs out into the real world and looking at how to use the ‘intant feedback’ that this technology provides to assist people in both how they work and in their personal and social lives. I’m very excited about the possibilities that these technologies provide.  

Some quick example or two to explain what I mean.

1. We can use Bio feedback to assist people in dealing with stressful situations and conflict. We can use VR or video simulations to mock up events and work through issues with individuals in a ‘controlled’ way, for example training social workers.

2. We can use Bio feedback and speckled computing at assist with rehabilitation, and with improving balance in people who have mobility issues, for example those who have had hip replacement surgery to learn to walk correctly again and improve freedom of movement.

3. We can assist with pandemic outbreaks by sending ‘specks’ to affected people to gauge whether or not they have the illness and to monitor their recovery. This avoids having to involve expensive health care practitioners and it also allows us to accurately measure the spread of a pandemic.

There are many more, Sports Science, Gaming etc.. the possibilities are many and varied and the opportunity for using this technology to benefit our society is very much within our grasp.

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ALT Lab Open Day (UK)

I was invited to present at the ALT (JISC) Lab Open Day event that took place yesterday in Oracle’s headquarters in London. Patrick McAndrew and I presented two sessions in the afternoon showcasing our new Ambient Technology Research Labs which are part of the new £19m building that will be the focus of our research work from May this year when we start moving in and using it. There’s a summary of the event here – we’re not part of that summary however a video interview of Patrick from the event will be available shortly and is being posted up on YouTube so I’ll send that when I get it. For those interested in our talk there’s a copy of the presentation which may be meaningless without Patrick’s or my waffle!

The event was great because we’re all doing such similar stuff, Sara de Freitas from the Serious Games Institute at Coventry seems to be covering much of the gaming stuff that we do and Nottingham and CARET are both looking at mobile learning and SOA applications which parallel our work in those areas. I was pleased to see that CARET seem to share the same views about not trying to ‘roll everything’ into a VLE but rather are now starting to explore pushing vle content out through other means (Facebook, iGoogle, RSS, etc). I was interested in their work on Sakai, I think sakai is much more developed than when I last explored it and I must make time to revisit it and indeed the CamTools product suite.

Nottingham covered their work with us on the Technology Enabled Learning (Personal Identifier) project which explores how school kids might learn through conducting their own field research work using a range of technologies and then bring this back into the more formal classroom environment to collate and make sense of the results. It’s really exploring the informal/formal learning boundaries, but on a lower level trying to make it fun for the kids. The Director of the institute at Nottingham watched their first field trial last week with (12-16 year old) school kids and was absolutely amazed at how engaged they were with what was essentially number crunching, but it was number crunching to find out what their physical characteristics were (blood pressure, heart rate, BMI, etc.) after they’d used various devices to record information about themselves whilst they were in a leisure centre, they were all keen to find out what their results meant and compare them with each other.

Patrick used the event to try to gather interest from others in forming a research network with us at the hub, I’m not sure how much interest this got but we’ve made a number of great contacts and I’m going to be taking trips to a number of these places in the next few months to find out what they’re really up to and to try to collaborate on some educationally and technology rich research projects.

Teaching…going back to basics

I was looking at a news story from Channel Four News recently about the Open University which has been involved in this debate about ELQ (Equivalent or Lower Qualification). Where the government is reducing or removing funding for students to study if they already possess a qualification at that level (e.g. second degrees etc.). I won’t get into that now as it’s a bit political but suffice to say I’m against it because I think it will inhibit lifelong learning for those who want to study at higher degree level to retrain in a new area.

Anyhow the news story contained snippets of old Open University folk in kipper ties showing things like wave form motion using a tank of coloured water. I am fascinated by these. I worked in the video production unit here when I first joined the OU and created animations for BBC programmes. We used to (in our spare time) watch the old video footage, including things where Professors had, for example, impressive sets of braces which could display different mathematical formulae as they talked about them. I really found it amusing and it did present quite dry subjects in a quirky way (which didn’t always work!).

 My theory now is that with technology we need to explore ways to go back to basics and to recreate this atmosphere. I think that the OU should be thinking about research into remote experimentation and remote instrumentation, actively engaging students in live experiments using the power of video, online media and interactive T.V.

 I’m currently involved in building a new centre for ‘ambient technology research’ at the OU and I have been enthusing (?) academic colleagues about how we could use the labs to do live experiments that we could stream and in which students could engage and actively participate and influence the outcome. This could open up our curriculum into new areas previously not explored by the OU (i.e. very hands-on activities in area such as physical sciences, sports, food, etc.) and also to help with student engagement and participation, making a more ‘virtual campus’ environment that can be achieved through a VLE or other simplistic online tool.

It’s an idea, it doesn’t need to cost a lot to do, it may be nonsense but we’ll see! – watch this space.