Reflecting on Eye-tracking

December 10, 2012

We have used eye-tracking in most of our studies in NELL. Some data are really interesting, in other projects we didn’t learn as much. Why is that? Here are some ideas what to watch out for when planning an eye-tracking study.

  • Eye-tracking data needs to be combined with other data sources. We found that in many cases the eye-tracking data could be interpreted in a meaningful way only when looking at interview responses of that person at the same time. Unless tasks are short, unambiguous and deterministic, the observed gaze behaviour may have a variety of reasons.
  • Eye-tracking helps to improve design. Did users look at that image? How long did it take them to notice the button? What attracted their attention first? These are questions that eye-tracking can answer and that may inform design decisions.
  • Eye-tracking may be more effective in later stages of the design process. Once you have a full mock-up quantitative analysis of gaze behaviour, heatmaps, etc. can be very informative. In contrast, wireframes or other early prototypes are probably better evaluated with qualitative feedback. For example, we explored which type of information learners would use when looking for help from a peer. We created three different mock-ups of the PeerFinder component and compared both the eye-tracking results as well as their preferences.
scanpath of PeerFinder

scanpath of PeerFinder, a component developed for a Learning Management System

After all, User Experience is really all about selecting the right methods at the right time for the given target group and given tasks. I frequently tell my students that they have to be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a method in a given situation. Eye-tracking is one of many data collection methods. It may be used in a number of different ways.

This blog gives a good overview of the advantages and disadvantages of eye-tracking: The eye is the mirror to the soul? What does eye-tracking research tell us?

Sebastian Thrun from Udacity probably read my last post on Massive Open Online Courses. At least that could be the motivation behind his latest idea: He aims to teach the largest on-line class ever. I don’t know where the current record stands, but this one will be large for sure. The Intro to Statistics course will start on June 25, 2012 and promises to be an interesting endeavour.

Certificate Udacity Web EngineeringMeanwhile, I have completed the Web Application Engineering course “with highest distinction”, including all homework and final. I loved it! I learnt how to use Google App Engine and Python and created a wiki system with login, editing and history functionality. The instant feedback to submissions makes it easy to see your progress.

So, if you always wanted to learn about stats, this is your opportunity. See you there!