A Zoom call
Unsplash | charlesdeluvio

Controversial Software Can Tell If Students Get Bored During Remote Learning

With many classrooms moving to a remote learning model over the past two years, new technology has sprung up with the intent of keeping teachers and students better connected.

But the new tech has its critics. While the goal may be admirable, the execution — which uses AI to scan students' faces for signs of boredom — has proven controversial.

Intel and Classroom Technologies have developed virtual school software.

Screengrab of Class Technologies Inc. website
Class Technologies Inc. | Class Technologies Inc.

The software suite, known simply as Class, promises to 'Add teaching and learning tools to Zoom.'

The new tech uses Zoom calls as its 'base', but layers in artificial intelligence that can detect whether students appear to be bored or confused.

Remote learning has its drawbacks.

Laptop showing a Zoom call
Unsplash | Compare Fibre

On the surface, the technology makes some sense. In an actual classroom, a teacher or instructor can easily monitor their students and step in if they're goofing off or need extra help. In a Zoom call, it's much harder to detect these things. This is the gap that the tech is aiming to bridge.

How accurate is the detection?

bored student on laptop
Pexels | Michael Burrows

Critics say that the technology cannot possibly understand the subtleties of each person's facial expressions or body language. In other words, it's hard to apply a one-size-fits-all label of a person being 'bored' or 'distracted' based simply on their facial expression.

"Students have different ways of presenting what's going on."

An empty classroom
Flickr | austindodgephotography

"That student being distracted at that moment in time may be the appropriate and necessary state for them in that moment in life," educator Todd Richmond told Protocol.

The concern here is that a student who's going through a difficult time probably doesn't need an AI interface calling them out for their facial expression.

It's moving beyond the classroom.

Technology inevitably moves to different applications, and Intel's AI tech is no exception. Intel has partnered with Purdue University to apply its tech to athletic performances.

Does the science hold up?

AI might be able to determine with a good degree of accuracy whether a person is smiling or frowning. But taking a facial expression and trying to determine the subtleties of someone's mood seems like a task that's beyond the capabilities of AI.

It's a form of surveillance.

A security camera
Unsplash | Oxa Roxa

"Students shouldn't have to police how they look in the classroom," Consumer Reports policy analyst Nandita Sampath said. "What cognitive and emotional states do these companies claim they are able to assess or predict, and what is the accountability?"

And there are certainly arguments to be made about students' right to privacy. "I think most teachers, especially at the university level, would find this technology morally reprehensible, like the panopticon," Angela Dancey, a senior lecturer at the University of Illinois Chicago, told Protocol.

Is the tech ready for a big rollout?

A Zoom call
Unsplash | lucas law

Even Michael Chasen, co-founder and CEO of Classroom Technologies, one of the companies behind the tech, acknowledges that there's work to be done.

"I don't think it's tech that's fully reached its maturity yet," he explained. "We need to see if the results are relevant to the performance of the students and see if we can't get useful data for the instructors out of it. This is what we're testing to find out."

It'll be interesting to see this one develop.

A Zoom call
Unsplash | charlesdeluvio

This technology seems like something that schools will want to have in their arsenal while simultaneously being tremendously unpopular with students.

What do you think of AI tech like this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

h/t: Protocol