Lecturers beware! New productive fidget spinner app will tell you when students are bored in your class

Production design student Jade Gidney and her productive fidget spinner Cadence

A new gadget designed by a University of Sussex student will tell academics when their students are becoming bored with their lecture.

Cadence has been created by production design student Jade Gidney to measure the amount of fidgeting that goes on within a lecture hall which will help tell teaching staff when students are becoming disengaged.

The system works by giving each student a hand-held device at the start of the lecture which they will play with in their hands more and more if they become distracted during a lecture. A display seen by a lecturer will indicate the collective level of fidgeting in the room, three red dots will indicate to them that action should be taken to regain focus on the subject being taught.

Jade said: “I hope lecturers will see this as a really helpful tool to improve how they communicate with their class rather than something intimidating. If levels of disengagement are increasing, the lecturer should take this as a sign to change the flow, ask a question or walk around the lecture hall. Fidgeting is a natural outlet for disengagement. And disengagement is natural, what’s not natural is trying to sustain focus for hours at a time. So lecturers shouldn't take it personally that their students are fidgeting, they should use it as way of identifying disengagement and the need for reengagement with their audience. It can also be used after a lecture to help academics review their reception and make adjustments for the future.

“By using Cadence, lecturers will have a much better idea how much of their teaching is being taken in by their class. If they are teaching to a class that is totally disengaged then it’s wasting their time as well. Cadence opens a two-way street of communication with students expressing their lessening attention through fidgeting while lecturers can respond to that and find ways to regain the focus within the room.”

Jade had originally planned to base her final year project around the design of coffee cups but quickly struck upon the idea of Cadence when she noticed how students would play with coffee cups during moments of nerves or stress.

The 21-year-old sat in a number of lectures to observe students’ fidgeting and then tested prototype wireless devices which are inspired by sea shells and worry stones. Like fidget spinners, worry stones are worked between the hands to relieve anxiety and date back to the Ancient Greeks.

Jade is now looking to work with psychologists at the University of Sussex to establish a study measuring the potential of Cadence to improve attention and knowledge retention within a lecture. 

Dr Sophie Forster, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sussex, said: “Research shows that fidgeting tends to increase over time in lectures, as mind wandering also increases, and that fidgeting is associated with poorer recall of the lecture. While this does not necessarily mean that fidgeting is a direct measure of poor attention, there is enough of a link that would warrant exploring Cadence’s potential further. As a lecturer myself, I think it would be useful to be able to review afterwards which points in the lecture were associated with high fidgeting and potentially look at introducing short interactive activities at those points to reengage attention. ”

Jade added that while Cadence’s primary role would be as an educational tool, the thinking behind it could be adapted for a number of different applications.

She said: “While I have developed Cadence for the university setting, there could be wider uses of it. I could see Cadence being used in schools for pupils with special educational needs which could give teachers a better understanding of their fidgeting and the intensity of their fidgeting, which can be indicative their mental state.  It could also be used in film screenings to establish at what points of a film the audience’s attention drops or in waiting rooms to give nurses or employers real time data on the levels of impatience, nervousness and restlessness.”

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2018