The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured more than $4 billion into efforts to transform public education in the U.S., is pushing to develop an “engagement pedometer.” Biometric devices wrapped around the wrists of students would identify which classroom moments excite and interest them—and which fall flat.
The biometric bracelets, produced by a Massachusetts startup company, Affectiva Inc, send a small current across the skin and then measure subtle changes in electrical charges as the sympathetic nervous system responds to stimuli. The wireless devices have been used in pilot tests to gauge consumers’ emotional response to advertising.
Existing measures of student engagement, such as videotaping classes for expert review or simply asking kids what they liked in a lesson, “only get us so far,” said Debbie Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Gates Foundation. To truly improve teaching and learning, she said, “we need universal, valid, reliable and practical instruments” such as the biosensors.
The engagement pedometer project fits neatly with the Gates Foundation’s emphasis on mining daily classroom interactions for data. One of the world’s richest philanthropies, the foundation reflects Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ interest in developing data collection and analysis techniques that can predict which teachers and teaching styles will be most effective.
The engagement pedometer is not formally part of that program; the biosensors are intended to give teachers feedback rather than evaluate their effectiveness, said Robinson, the Gates spokeswoman.
Still, if the technology proves reliable, it may in the future be used to assess teachers, Robinson acknowledged. “It’s hard for one to say what people may, at some point, decide to do with this,” she said.
That alarms some educators who have long been critical of the Gates Foundation’s efforts to boil down effective teaching to an algorithm.
“They should devote more time to improving the substance of what is being taught ... and give up all this measurement mania,” said Diane Ravitch, an education professor at New York University.
In fact the sensors do not distinguish between fear and interest, between boredom and relaxation, so researchers plan to videotape each class that uses the biosensors. That way they can see what was happening in the classroom at moments of peak engagement.
“It could be that the bell rang or that someone sneaked up behind you,” said Shaundra Daily, an assistant professor in the School of Computing at Clemson University, in South Carolina, who is setting up the middle-school research.
Clemson received about $500,000 in Gates funding. Another $620,000 will support an MIT scientist, John Gabrieli, who aims to develop a scale to measure degrees of student engagement by comparing biosensor data to functional MRI brain scans (using college students as subjects). A third grant, for nearly $280,000, supports research by Ryan Baker, a Columbia University professor who specializes in mining data about educational practices.
-www.reuters.com, 13 June 2012
Although not enthusiastically welcomed by all, this type of biosensor will continue to be developed for one specific purpose—control. In this case, it’s the teacher/student relationship. However, this technology can be developed for the employer/employee relationship in the future. Where will it all end? Revelation 13:16-17 answers, “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”
(For more on this subject, read Preparing for the Mark of the Beast, Item 1061.)