It seems Bill Gates just got around to watching A Clockwork Orange.
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 first time we read that we immediately thought of the second Alien movie where the Marines were all monitored up and all their bio-signs could be read in the command vehicle. That's how the platoon knew the aliens hadn't eaten Sergent Apone and he was being used as an incubator. School is a lot like that.
Gates officials hope the devices, known as Q Sensors, can become a common classroom tool, enabling teachers to see, in real time, which kids are tuned in and which are zoned out.This is great. As educational technicians we'd like nothing better than to intersperse our lesson with checks of the students' bio-signs on the monitor. Or maybe there could just be alarm tones like in the hospital when a patient's heart stops. We can see it now, right in the middle of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet WEEEOO WEEEOO WEEEOO Code Blue! Code Blue! Fourth row, second seat has dozed off!! Pop quiz stat!
Skeptics aren't so sure. They call the technology creepy and say good teachers already know when their students are engaged. Plus, they say it's absurd to think spikes in teenagers' emotional arousal necessarily correspond to learning.Well, that is a point. We mean if little Billy gets a Tweet from Leslie during the discussion of Paradise Lost that says her parents are going out of town this weekend and she'll be home alone he's liable to be spiking all over the place, but it won't have anything to do with Milton. Unless that's what he calls his...well, never mind.
The Gates Foundation has spent two years videotaping 20,000 classroom lessons and breaking them down, minute by minute, to analyze how each teacher presents material and how those techniques affect student test scores.They called it the Blind Men and the Elephant Project.
Clemson University 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.Wow. $1.4 million. That's like Hmm...Let's see, the typical public school library spends about $6,620 on books a year, so $1.4 mil could fund 212 school libraries for a year, or hire almost 40 teachers, or fix a whole bunch of leaky roofs. Well, priorities, you know? If we can keep the kids excited maybe they won't notice the boiler quit working in October.
But we have a couple questions: Let's say you figure out what excites kids in the classroom. Would you want to do that all the time? We mean, isn't it natural for experiences to have peaks and valleys? Sometimes students learn by sitting quietly and reflecting on things. Do you really want all peaks all the time, and if so wouldn't it be cheaper just put vellocet in the milk?