eMotion: Forward Thinking For Remote Learning

eMotion: Forward Thinking For Remote Learning

Unprecedented global circumstances have shifted standard practice across several industries, and arguably, none more so than the education sector. With secondary and tertiary institutions having to adapt to the conditions, distanced learning has proven to be no easy feat. IBM’s 2020 Australia ‘Call for Code’ winners, Team eMotion, consisting of design expert Jemma Vandali, 3D motion designer Phil Williams, and tech gurus Chris Bossard and Shouryadipta Ghosh, sought to bridge the technological gaps in virtual learning. eMotion uses IBM Watson’s sentiment analysis, which assists in triggering ‘motivational breaks.’ GovHack spoke to the team to shed some light on a concept that aims to both embolden teachers with keeping students engaged, and proves that the right type of open data can advance digital wonders. 

Students at the Forefront of Open Data Gathering

The notion of student disengagement is not an anecdotal concept, but an issue that educators and institutions have grappled with since the beginning of modern education. This can be further exacerbated when there is a disruption to a student’s natural environment, such as the shift to online learning. Without the preparedness and right tools, teachers struggle to identify students’ needs and maintain curriculum. 

Using open data to build on effective ways to combat this – in an effort to develop a rich tool to assist teachers during this trying time – was something that the team strategically assessed due to the varying factors.

“What we discovered was that there was a lot of bias in those [data sets]. We created a way to actually capture that. The bias came from where it was developed, or how they weren’t rich enough in terms of picking up different emotions from different backgrounds. “

Jemma Vandali, on determining data suitability

IBM’s tone analyser, a tool on their cloud service that analyses a person’s emotions through their written word, was employed to assist the team in identifying the range of sentiments and emotions students exhibited in their responses. While exploring some of the causes of student disengagement, the key themes that arose was the lack of life balance, decreased motivation, awkward interactions and boredom, which gave rise to ‘eMotion.’ 

The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL) carried out a longitudinal study into higher education that revealed half of the current 34 Bachelor of Education teacher training courses devoted less than 5% of their curriculum to teaching reading. “We did test the idea with kids who have learning difficulties and dyslexia as well”, Jemma stated. Students, aged 14-26, covered a wide spectrum of the demographic as they come from metro, regional and indigenous backgrounds. 

There were a few barriers the team faced, but remembering what the bigger goal was to get the job done was the important thing.

“There’s two parts to our idea. I think the research beforehand helped. It established our direction. But also, there’s a lot of time needed to fully execute [the project]. That was the biggest barrier, but we just worked around the clock, openly, through the internet and did as well as we could in the time that we had.”

As stated by Phil Williams on the importance of perseverance when facing hurdles

Much can be said about the right to privacy, or comfortability, when an application like eMotion is rolled out. This was an area of focus for the team.

“The biggest one is giving people the level of comfort to introduce this, and whether some people are comfortable being anonymous in this kind of situation and others are not.” “It was making sure that the model that we built was suitable for those that were consenting and those that weren’t consenting.” 

Jemma Vandali, on the importance of right to privacy

But what can be said about ease of accessibility for the individual and the actual use of this tool? Well there are variables to consider, as Phil outlined, “You have towns of a hundred people [Western Australia communities] where there is a media centre and they do have access to browsers, who might not have headsets. It’s 2 parts; it’s the A.I analysis, so they can be learning, and there’s a trigger, which is the second part. They can use a browser where they can get up and dance, which will make it a more fun learning experience.” 

The Technology 

The team utilised AI software that can analyse and determine a student’s emotions according to body language and facial recognition. This employs IBM Watson’s facial recognition system, a leading-edge software in A.I and machine learning. 

Code samples from IBM’s cloud service allowed eMotion to create MEAN stack on Cloud Foundry, the industry-standard open source platform for launching applications. With a consistent JavaScript language for both front and backend development, deploying the application with future development is feasible and streamlined.

To truly understand students’ engagement and make the vision come to life, the team used 3 A.I based detection techniques; facial analysis, eye movement and log file analysis. The Sentiment Analysis is featured on the Watson Studio platform in order to allow for privacy whilst using a web browser. The option was also there for consenting students, whose data would be tracked to determine their emotions. 

Beyond Education, eMotion is here to stay. 

This technology aims to transcend the classroom environment, as Jemma stated, “we were using LEAN startup methodologies as part of our process, and we were looking for something that was viable and mass market potentially. Any type of audience engagement, whether it’s through something like Netflix or YouTube for example, could be used in that context. For any video conferencing software, in an employee context as well as a remote learning context, we believe that we’d endure well beyond COVID-19 as it’s looking at how people connect with a purpose. “

On the subject of what one can achieve with open data, it serves as a tool that enriches the livelihood of any one individual and helps industries thrive, as is made evident in what eMotion offers. 

GovHack continues to make significant strides and provide a platform for the hacker community in order to create innovative and creative solutions to civic problems. For more information on GovHack and our 2020 digital event, visit GovHack 2020 Competition 2 – GovHack

Elias Asefa

I write editorial on a number of topics and interests including - but not limited to - culture, art, lifestyle and entertainment. For more, please visit my online writing portfolio: https://eliasgma.journoportfolio.com/