It must be hard for university professors ... they tell their students to shout out if they don’t understand what’s being said in a lecture, yet few students are likely to feel comfortable raising their hand in front of the class and saying “I don’t get it.” Scientists at Spain’s la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid are hoping to address that situation, with a set of augmented reality glasses that let profs see who’s “not getting it,” without those students having to say so verbally.

A side benefit of the system is that it gives students an excuse to fiddle with their smartphones in the middle of a lecture. Using a custom app, at any time they’re able to select one of several symbols. These symbols can indicate that they’ve understood an explanation, that they haven't understood it, that they need the professor to slow down, or that they know the answer to a question posed to the class (although if they’re bold enough to volunteer an answer, they probably also have no problem with just raising their hand).

Using their augmented reality glasses, the prof is able to see the students, but they also see each student’s selected symbol hovering above their head. Conceivably, if they saw an “I don’t get it” symbol above a particular student, they could keep refining their explanation until that turned to an “I get it” symbol.

The system also displays a diagram showing how all of the students combined are following the professor’s lecture. This could be particularly useful in large lecture theaters, where counting and comparing all the individual symbols would be too daunting.

Additionally, the prof could enter lecture notes into the system, which would appear to them at key points in their presentation.

“The hope is that this system will make for more effective lecture classes, because receiving greater feedback, continuously, will allow the professor to adapt the class based on the students’ actual knowledge and understanding, giving extra examples, varying the rhythm or skipping those parts of the lesson that the students indicate that they already know or remember,” says Prof. Ignacio Aedo, one of the scientists involved in the project.

While the prototype glasses currently look rather goofy, it is hoped that the system could ultimately be integrated into a sleeker device such as Google Glass.

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