Fidget spinner app signals when students are bored in class

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

Cadence is an app created by production design student, Jade Gidney, to measure the amount of fidgeting that goes on within a lecture hall, and so help alert 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 inspired by sea shells and worry stones. 

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 to reengage attention.”