A Chinese Professor and his Invention – the Lighter Side

R Jayaraman

Author: R Jayaraman

Date: Tue, 2016-09-27 11:42

A computer teacher in a Chinese B-School has found out a method to read the degree of attention a student in his class is paying to his lecture. An Editor of the Times of India has thought it fit to print this gem in the edit page of the Mumbai edition on Sep.15. So this must be interesting and impactful news.

The Chinese are ancient people and have to their credit many firsts, like using paper, building the Great Wall and the world’s largest dam. Naturally newspapers keep an eye out for anything Chinese. Add to that a student who is being sought after by many schools, especially if he is interested in doing his MBA. Else who will pay for all the money that B-Schools spend on their activities?

The recent Chinese method invented obviously involves a sensor to track the facial expressions of the student from which one can get an idea of what’s going on in his mind. Of course, the risk seeking professor has not encountered the SPJIMR student who can give a run for the professor’s curiosity.

Many of my colleagues will agree with me when I say that the classroom in a B-School is an evolved entity. It has now three projectors, several speakers excluding the professor, pinup boards (don’t get me wrong, these are for putting up stickers for work in courses like Design Thinking), Wi-Fi connections - perhaps to remind those who may have forgotten that there is a world hidden in the internet and it cannot be kept away from the student.There are video players, CCTVs (this is not a very popular device as it could capture the professor’s antics too, a double-edged sword, so to say), flip charts, white-boards and white-board markers covering all the colours of the rainbow, collar mikes along with mounted as well as hand held ones so that you can use whichever one of these is working, and the ubiquitous swivelling chair. 

This last is a touch as it is expected to prevent anyone from going to sleep as the well-oiled ball and socket joint will move at the slightest sign of the eyes shutting. Into this well-appointed classroom, the Chinese professor is adding one more gadget, and that too, to spy on the most important object in the room – the student.

Don’t know about you, but by the time I enter at the dot of the bell, some of the occupiers of the swivel chairs are deeply busy on their laptops. They expect you to think that they are doing their last minute touch up of the calculations that they have been tackling since last night in the three-page HBS case. Any other thought is simply dismissed with the contempt it deserves. Some are busy giving finishing touches to the conversations that began in the previous session. They have every intention to listen to you provided you have something useful to tell them.

Most B-School students are now “loanees” before they enter your August portals. They are quite serious about what they learn as this facilitates their ROI calculation, that is, what will be the first salary from the job that they can get when they complete their degree, and how soon can they pay back the loan. Most of the students are keen to learn as much as they can from the classes, especially from the internet. In such a scenario, the Chinese professor is indeed going to find it tough. All that I can say is: Good luck to him. Do we need more of such risk-seekers? You be the judge.  

 

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Comments

Sir, a very interesting article on new inventions to track a students attention during a classroom session. I thoroughly enjoyed the lighter side of things highlighted by you. I agree with you that the modern day classrooms have come a long way and are full of entities that unintentionally attract the attention of a human mind. New inventions to track & keep a check on such distractions will continue to be perused. Alternatively, looking at things from the other end of the spectrum, in addition to tracking attention and confronting them, we must also look at ways in which one can grab the attention of the recipient. In only my 4 months at the SPJIMR campus, I can easily relate to at least a couple of professors, who with their wit and charm can get us to focus on some of the most mind-numbing of subjects. All it takes is the impression and connect that a faculty builds with his or her students and the attention simply follows all by itself. Humour as a part of pedagogy is certainly one tool to grab the attention of a student. These very sentiments were mirrored by our dean Dr. Ranjan Banerjee in his session on learning to learn. On a completely different note, the digital age of today has constantly sought to solve the everyday problems in our society, and the attention tracking invention used by the Chinese professor is no different. In fact, applications of such technologies are wide, far beyond the walls of any classroom. These technologies could comfortably find its presence in the cockpit of an aircraft. Cars of the near future may well be equipped to track the attention of the rider and the list goes on. Interestingly such ideas are born and nurtured in the confines of the very classrooms, which are full of evolving attention seeking entities. So good or bad is only a matter of perspective.

This article gives me a silent information about how China is leading it’s was in all corners of Technology (especially digitalization). In technology, China has always been able to compete with the rest of the world by providing similar features at a very low price. China has also come out a long way contributing in innovation and technology, latest being an AI News Anchor which look and sounds like real news anchors. (Link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-txRPqo8Mk). The Indian media which is conceived to be the most independent media in the world can go to any extent to present a news or information that they assume will catch the attention irrespective of its importance. This is why this Chinese innovation has found a place in the article in the edit page of Mumbai edition. The Chinese facial expressions differs a lot from Indians. In fact the Chinese are known to be “poker faced” while we Indians are believed to communicate more from our facial expressions. An interesting study revealed that Chinese primarily expressed through their eyes whereas Indians use almost all the parts of the face including nodding their heads. Forget machines, People from west often get confused for a “Yes” or “No” when an Indian expresses by shaking his head. Even today, the ambience in the classrooms of SPJIMR is mesmerizing. The classroom is studded with techno tools and one which I enjoy is the usage of electronic data and EKOSH instead of hard copy assignments and study materials. This very means allows us to access data and submit assignment “on the go” and also gives a pride as a lot of paper wastage is stopped. Social awareness has been an important concept which has been practised and implemented in various way in SPJIMR. The professors at SPJIMR can read the face and understand the state in which a particular student is during the lecture. Hence, there is no need for such technology that the Chinese B School wants to use. The most important factor about the success of the SPJIMR is the seriousness students have for their course and the experience and unique interactive teaching process that the professors practice here. In my opinion SPJIMR is a place where the enthusiasm of young talent blends with the practical experience and theoretical knowledge possessed by the faculty is what makes it a magical experience. I conclude this by saying that the technology is a powerful tool to enhance the teaching process as we are moving towards a digital world than to use it for policing students.

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