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Projects - Elizabeth Specker, Ph.D.

eye tracker eye in an eyetracker camera Elizabeth Specker sitting in front of eye tracker monitor in EMMA lab  eye tracking lab

Current interests:

EMRA resource lab website

Currently I'm fascinated with exploring reading awareness.  Working with students and opening the doors of what they are doing (or not doing) while they're reading is also allowing me to reflect upon teaching practices and learning opportunities in the classroom.  We do this by using an eye-tracking camera and having discussions with students as they watch a video of their own reading patterns. 

Over the past few years, I've been working in the EMRA lab with ESL students from all levels of proficiency by using the eye-tracking camera and gaze path videos.  Students are able to see videos of their own reading experiences and view their brain at work making choices about looking, making saccades, and using regressions to interpret a reading passage.  It's interesting for everyone!

Now, we're using the concept of raising awareness about reading habits by expanding it for use as a group workshop in classrooms.  Using EMME workshops, we are using reading exercises and discussion in addition to a video of a gaze trail of an expert reader to help students realize what they are doing when they read and why they should use pre-reading skills in their academic classes.  The video of an expert reader really emphasizes strategies and then students can make stronger connections between the advice that their teachers keep telling them and the reality of what that advice entails.  Self-reported surveys have shown that students apply pre-reading techniques in their own reading practices outside of the classroom after the workshop exercises.  Exciting!

EMRA - Eye Movement and Reading Awareness resource lab

EMME - Eye Movement Modelling Example

Projects & Research:

Currently I am working on publishing research conducted during my dissertation and doctoral work, but I am also working on a project involving cultural metaphors and identities in ESL writing (presented at Northern CATESOL 2010).

Elizabeth Specker presenting poster


The overarching aim of my research is to explore how multimodality can be used by language learners as a tool. Multimodality is EVERYWHERE. As new generations of learners appear with a range of access to technology, learning strategies and teaching strategies must evolve and adjust to advanced levels of learning that bring in the skills these learners must already successfully use to navigate their daily lives outside of the classroom. Students need the skills for semiotic interpretation of a variety of texts in a variety of modalities (print, visual/graphic, aural, etc). And above all, critical thinking in interpreting these texts needs to be taught.

My dissertation research was the first step in my exploration and research of multimodality and multimodal applications. I aim to look not just at the product, but at the process: the attentional choices and the comprehension and possible appropriation of the messages within the text.

The texts that I choose are authentic texts - video clips from television. This medium is available to those with access to television, and so around the world, in whatever the language, people use their multimodal respresentational systems to watch, listen and interpret what they see and hear being broadcast. Eventually I would also like to use the internet and texts available there. During this first step, I have collected a large amount of data about the participants and the viewing and comprehension process, but I am currently concentrating on the reading patterns of participants (native and non native speakers of English) as they read moving text (closed captioning) in two conditions: with the picture in the background, and closed captioning by itself. It is predicted that this information will inform learners and researchers about reading for comprehension and for improving reading skills.

image of eye tracker screen with text
Reading patterns: Eye trackers can be used to analyze reading patterns. Above, the red lines trace the movement while the blue circles represent how long the reader looked at that spot.

The eye tracker can be used to capture the attentional choices that the participant makes - it is a way of bridging the materiality of time to view what and for how long a participant looks at a sign on the screen during this literacy event. The picture above illustrates how the camera can track eye movement.

EMMA lab membersLinda Waugh, Neil Johnson, Elizabeth Specker CESL students, Elizabeth Specker at the Grand CanyonElizabeth Specker and Teen CESL student