What's Up With Gates?

Several of you have pointed out this hilarious/ridiculous story about the Gates Foundation and its funding of a study at Clemson on what is being called the "Galvanic Bracelet Grant." Turns out there are two grants; one for Clemson for almost $500k and one to the National Center on Time and Learning for about $620k.   This is supposed to be measure student interest and teacher effectiveness. 

Turns out the person who usually writes grant descriptions for the website got it wrong on the Clemson one.

 From The Answer Sheet at The Washington Post:

The original description of the Clemson grant said:
Purpose: to work with members of the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) team to measure engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.
The new description of the grant’s purpose will say:
Purpose: to conduct a pilot study to measure student engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets, which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices more broadly to help students and teachers.
Well, I feel better now.

Here's the other grant:

The description of the $621,265 grant given at the same time to the National Center on Time and Learning was accurate:
Purpose: to measure engagement physiologically with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Galvanic Skin Response to determine correlations between each measure and develop a scale that differentiates different degrees or levels of engagement.
 Now apparently the Gates Foundation isn't "envisioning" that such a device would be part of a teacher evaluation but they don't make those decisions do they.  I can certainly imagine a governor or superintendent making that call, though.

This is all part of Gates' MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) program.

This is the best use of $1.1M.  Oh, I forget, to Gates that parking change.  

How did this come about?
“The genesis of the project came in similar research done with autistic students, which found that they often were engaged in learning, even when it did not seem that they were from outward appearances.
“The pilot study will be small — some 100 students — and is still in the early stages of design. The foundation is funding, rather conducting this research, as part of its overall portfolio of grants designed to support promising research.”

Well, I can see that for autistic students.   But there would be all sorts of reasons this would not work in a regular classroom.  You could get a reaction from a student for many reasons including a classmate whispering to him, a text message a student reads or any number of things. 

Remember Clockwork Orange?  

I long for the day when I might have an audience with Gates.  I would be torn between the Cher response in Moonstruck (she slaps her boyfriend when he says he loves her and says, "Snap out of it!") or getting on my knees and begging him to listen. 

It just may be too late for any of that. 


Anonymous said…
I am confused. The National Center for Time & Learning seems like it's an advocacy group, advocating for longer school years/longer days. They're going to do a psychology/neuroscience study using MRI & GSR?

Seems like its worth digging deeper. Research on student engagement, using non-invasive measurements like MRI & GSR isn't necessarily a bad thing. It might give you a biological measure that contradicts with (or is subthreshold) to some forms of measured behavior. One would do it to find more effective methods of teaching, not to actually measure teaching in a particular instance.

Part of the goal would be to come up with standardized curricula or techniques for teaching something (like the trig functions, or multiplication tables, or reading). One might object to the standardization, but I'd not expect that the aim would be to measure teachers ability by the GSR response of particular groups of students (well, I hope not, it would be crazy).

But, I still don't understand who is doing the research.
Anonymous said…
Oops, that was me, zb
Anonymous said…
I can see where they're going with the fantasy. It's driving the policy wonks crazy that there is no objective measure of education. They've played with complex groups of numbers, standardized testing, . . . . (all of which they hope will play some kind of role like the amount of sales you bring in, or your market share, or your earnings, or some other number), and found that they're all poor at measuring the goals we want from education.

So, now they're drifting into woo land. I looked at the WaPo article, and the clarification sounds like my presumption (i.e. use the GSR/MRI data to design effective teaching curricula) was not right, and that they're actually hoping that GSR is going to give them a large scale "objective" method of measuring education (the crazy version).

Or they've been talking to some GSR snake oil salesman in marketing departments (or more ickily, seduced some otherwise sane psychologists with money). Ugh.

Funniest thing I heard all day! said…
"Purpose: to conduct a pilot study to measure student engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets, which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices more broadly to help students and teachers"

Will the GSR be able to differentiate between the teens response to the cute kid sitting next to them vs. response to learning.

Absolutely hysterical!!
Anonymous said…
I have taught for several years, and I did not need a magic bracelet to tell me when the kids were bored or lost. Really, it is not rocket science to determine if you have the attention of your classroom.

-Methinks the Emperor Has No Clothes
ArchStanton said…
So; they get the kids used to wearing these things and being monitored at an early age. Meanwhile, they are collecting data and refining their ability to asses whether a student is stimulated by the lesson or the cute kid sitting next to them. Twenty years later it's mandatory for employees to wear these things and they can tell if you're focusing on that spreadsheet, stealing a quick nap in your office, surfing sports stats on your personal electronic device, or ogling a co-worker.

At what point do these things become an invasion of privacy? GSR is a component of lie detector tests IIRC. It's not hard to imagine that they could incorporate HR (heart rate) and BP (blood pressure) into these things. What if a teacher/principal is investigating something and asking questions of a student. Would they have access to the data? Would they be required to ask the student to remove the monitors?

Yeah, a little paranoid - not that there isn't valid use for this kind of monitoring device, but when others have access to the data, I get a little wary.
Anonymous said…
Read Allen's autobiography to get an insight to Gates.

Anonymous said…
I have an idea for bracelets - my bracelets will be bling only for those managers who make over 6 figures a year! Since you're making more money than 99% of us, you better be better than all of us at being a boss! Since you're supposed to excel at allocating resources, if the best you can do is come up with more dumb acronyms and more managers and more job titles and more 6 figure salaries and MORE blame on the over worked underlings - on your way to and from court, from your jail cell while you're being prosecuted for ripping off the public - you'll get to wear HANDCUFFS!

Maybe then managers would be more engaged in doing what they're paid to do by the community - figure out solutions which benefit the community, instead of beggaring community members!

Jack Whelan said…
Practical wisdom and common sense cannot be measured, so they don't exist.

The most important thing to understand the "technocratic" mind is its compulsive need for control. And where it cannot possibly have control, it will settle for the illusion of control. They'd call it data based, and so that legitimizes their delusion.
Anonymous said…
Maybe Melinda would be the one to talk to, not Bill.

This sounds like a logical opportunity for the polygraph industry. Polygraphs have no scientific validity and are used mainly as a tool of intimidation. Polygraph operators are good at finding out what results the bosses want, so they can get those results. I'm sure this would work fine in the schools too.

Here is a skeptical article about GSR devices.

- spacehound
Anonymous said…
Why not just give them all "mood rings?" That's how much sense this makes to me.

Josh Hayes said…
And do they have any idea of the size of fMRI devices? I'm cracking up imagining a classroom full of these things, and a teacher trying to shout over the roar of the collected machinery... oh yeah, THAT'S just like the regular ol' classroom back home.
Anonymous said…
Why not just give them all "mood rings?" That's how much sense this makes to me.


Thanks for the morning chuckle—I needed it. But what a sorry state we are in (literally and figuratively).

Solvay Girl
It keeps getting better said…
So, we have a bunch of teens in a room that have successfully launched a prank on the teacher. Will the GSR measure this as a positive physiological response to learning? After all, these kids did learn..but, only to launch a successful prank.
Anonymous said…
Would this data be sold or used for other none education practices ! Of course, I can envision more targeted advertising for our consumer based economy. We probably all need a GSR.


Public School Parent
seattle citizen said…
And so the technocrats take us further down the road: Measure, categorize, manipulate...

Really?! Really? Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, worse...The abandonment of heart, of feeling, of human-ness in the pursuit of data.

I'm not astonished by this, but saddened.
onthefly said…
Why doesn't Gates just skip the slow deliberate destruction of public school teachers'reputations, professionalism and morale and jump right to what he and his cohorts have clearly wanted all along -- daily anal probing of everyone who works for a public school district?

Actually, that would less invasive then constant monitoring of our galvanic skin response. This is basically being attached to a lie detector all day.
Nancy said…
What happens then to the teacher when students measure inattentiveness - maybe his/her chair seat fitted with a cattle prod and the teacher gets a wake up call to the rear? (shoot, maybe that's a million dollar idea I just gave away?)
Its "old school" for a teacher to use her/his eyes? No $$ into corporation pockets. I'm good with scientific research, but not with an agenda to sell ridiculous products to schools.
I like FedMomof2 idea - Moodrings! Those are cheap too.
Disgusted said…
Will Gates be putting one these devices on his kids?

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