Gates researchers using science to enhance student learning
Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn. Well, Diane Ravitch, Susan Ohanion, Leonie Haimson, and their tinfoil hat crew have stumbled upon some of the craziest stuff I’ve ever heard in ed reform. It appears the Gates Foundation has spent more than $1 million to develop Galvanic Skin Response bracelets to gauge student response to instruction as part of their Measuring Effective Teachers project. The Galvanic Skin Response measures the electrical conductance of the skin, which varies largely due to the moisture from people’s sweat.
The foundation has given $1.4 million in grants to several university researchers to begin testing the devices in middle-school classrooms this fall.
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.
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.
Um, OK. We’ve already written about how unreliable the Gates Foundation is in describing their own research, here and here. And we’ve already written about how the entire project of using science to discover the best way to teach is a fool’s enterprise.
And now the Gates Foundation is extending that foolish enterprise to include measuring Galvanic Skin Response as a proxy for student engagement. This simply will not work. The extent to which students sweat is not a proxy for engagement or for learning. It is probably a better proxy for whether they are seated near the heater or next to a really pretty girl (or handsome boy).
Galvanic Skin Response has already been widely used as part of the “scientific” effort to detect lying. And as any person who actually cares about science knows — lie detectors do not work. Sweating is no more a sign of lying than it is of student engagement.
I’m worried that the Gates Foundation is turning into a Big Bucket of Crazy. Anyone who works for Gates should be worried about this. Anyone who is funded by Gates should be worried about this. If people don’t stand up and tell Gates that they are off the rails, the reputation of everyone associated with Gates will be tainted.