Search results for: "galvanic skin response"

Readers of this blog are aware of the controversy surrounding the Gates-funded research into the uses of a device to monitor students’ and possibly teachers’ physiological reactions in the classroom. The device is called a “galvanic skin response” monitor. It would be a bracelet with wireless sensor that students would wear to measure how engaged or disengaged they are while in class. The Gates Foundation has spent $1.4 million to sponsor research on this project at Clemson, the National Commission on Time & Learning, and some other unnamed facility. The Clemson grant was described on the Gates website as part of the MET project, implying that it would be used to evaluate teachers, but the foundation said that was not correct and changed the description on the website.

There has been quite a lively discussion of this research on my blog, with a few people saying they welcomed the bracelet and the research and wanted to learn more about the physiological reactions of students, but most saying they thought this was a bad idea, for various reasons. I personally object to the Big Brother aspect of the project, as well as to the suggestion that “learning” can be measured by physiological reactions rather than by that yet-unmeasurable thing called understanding.

In a sign of the intelligence with which this project has been developed, the bracelet is referred to as “an engagement pedometer,” even though a pedometer measures steps and is not worn on the arm.

This is one teacher’s reaction. I liked it. I think you will too. Unless you are one of those who wants to measure students’ skin temperature and whatever emotional responses can be recorded on a bracelet.

As an experienced teacher who admires her students, I don’t need a bracelet to tell me when they are: bored, confused, excited, tired, interested, etc. I know them as individuals with strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and dreams. I find this insulting and another way to turn the art of teaching into an exact science that can be manned by Stepford test prep drones or teach for a while recruits. Gates continues to demean and insult the teaching profession, one he knows nothing about. Just because he is a billionaire, it is assumed he is a expert on all topics and all professions. Bill and Melinda and the rest of the faux reformers should give up three years of their lives and work on the front line teaching public school children……plan the lessons, monitor their progress, grade papers, chart the data, enrich for the talented and gifted while individualizing and differentiating for those who struggle, attend 504 meetings, PPT’s, parent conferences, district workshops.  It is time for them to walk the walk and then let’s plan to talk some more about the teaching profession.


An enlightening article by Stephanie Simon of Reuters was just posted. Simon interviewed Gates’ officials and others, and her article fills in the Gates’ rationale that has until now been missing. The article says:

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.

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.

Robinson assures the reporter that the “engagement pedometers” (odd to have a pedometer worn as a bracelet) are not intended to measure teacher effectiveness, at least not now.

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.

Some teachers expressed disdain for the device, but the reporter managed to find someone from a Gates-funded organization to praise it:

To Sandi Jacobs, the promise of such technology outweighs the vague fear that it might be used in the future to punish teachers who fail to engage their students’ Q Sensors.

Any device that helps a teacher identify and meet student needs “is a good thing,” said Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group that receives funding from the Gates Foundation. “We have to be really open to what technology can bring.”

NCTQ, readers may recall, was the subject of an earlier blog here.

ADDENDUM: There must be yet another Gates grant for the “galvanic skin response” research. Until now, I had learned of only two: the Clemson research for nearly half a million; the National Commission on Time and Learning for some $600,000. The Reuters article noted above refers to $1.4 million in grants for this research, which means that some other group of researchers is working on developing the technology to measure student responses to instruction via physiological reactions.

The Gates Foundation now says that its grants for the galvanic skin response monitor had no connection with teacher evaluation, even though the statement on its web site says the purpose of the grant is to “determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers” and says that the researchers at Clemson will be working with the MET (teacher evaluation) project of the Gates Foundation.

The foundation issued the following statement yesterday (sent to me by a reporter, without a link), responding to the questions raised on this blog and elsewhere:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a portfolio of nearly $1.4 million in grants to support researchers interested in studying students’ classroom engagement – based on biometric measures like skin sensitivity, as indicated through bracelets.  This pilot of approximately 100 students has not yet begun.  Past studies with autistic children have used the bracelets to show those who might seem unresponsive to external stimuli are engaged and learning .

These grants are not all related to the Measures of Effective Teaching research project, and will not in any way be used to evaluate teacher performance.  Rather, these are tools to help students and teachers gain a better understanding how and when students are most engaged in the classroom, with the ultimate goal of learning how to help students learn better.

The foundation is funding, rather than conducting this research, and specific questions about research design and objectives are best directed to researchers  Rosalind Picard and Shaundra

In this statement, the foundation insists that the bracelets “will not in any way be used to evaluate teacher performance.” That is interesting since the grant announcement said the money was connected to the Gates MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) program. But, let’s take them at their word. Developing these biometric measures has nothing to do with measuring teachers’ performance, which is a major focus of the foundation at this time.

But here’s more new information.

A reader sent the following comment:

In 2008 Microsoft filed a patent application for a system that monitors employee metabolism: “one or more physiological or environmental sensors to detect at least one of heart rate, galvanic skin response, EMG, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature, movement, facial movements, facial expressions, and blood pressure.”Here is the patent application. And here is an article about it.

Here is an education professor in Kentucky who thinks that I reacted “hysterically” to the Gates-funded galvanic response skin bracelet.

He describes me as a defender of the “status quo” because I have a distrust of people from on high telling teachers how to teach and punishing them when they can’t produce higher test scores every year. Also I do have an attachment to public schools as opposed to handing public dollars over to the private sector. I have this deep-seated preference for helping people when they need help instead of punishing them.

But I ask readers: Do you think that it is “hysterical” to worry about the use of devices to monitor the physiological reactions of students? I happen to think that it is a step towards “brave new world” thinking, this idea that school officials or teachers or government or anyone else has the power to watch us whether we like it or not, even to the point of checking on our bodily responses over which we may not have any control. I just figure that it’s nobody’s business but my own whether I am excited by what I read. Ask me to interpret it, ask me to summarize it, but ask me about how it affected my emotional life or whether it made me perspire. That’s not your business.

But then I’m old fashioned that way. I like the idea of personal privacy. I don’t like the idea of being surveilled by other people, especially without my permission.


P.S. I do not like to refer to gender and I seldom do. But I can’t help but mention that there is a long history of men asserting their superiority by calling women “hysterical.” Why is it that men never are “hysterical,” only women?

A few days ago, I learned from Leonie Haimson who learned from Susan Ohanian about a grant from the Gates Foundation to Clemson University to conduct research into the uses of a “galvanic skin response” bracelet. This is a wireless sensor that tracks physiological reactions. What made this grant of special interest was that it was directly connected to the Gates Foundation’s premier teacher-evaluation program, Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). The Clemson team won a grant of $498,055 (wonder what that $55 is for?) to “determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.” The GSR bracelet, in short, could be used to measure physiological responses to instruction, and such responses might provide yet another metric to add to test scores, student surveys, and observations when evaluating teacher effectiveness.

The story got more interesting when someone on Twitter discovered another Gates grant, this one for $621,265 to the National Center on Time and Learning, ” “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.”

And then a reader noted that the GSR bracelet was unable to distinguish between “electrodermal activity that grows higher during states such as excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation.” 

Thus a teacher might be highly effective if his students were in a statement of excitement or anxiety; and a teacher might be considered ineffective if her students were either bored or relaxed. The reader concluded, quite rightly, that the meter would be useless since a teacher might inspire anxiety by keeping students in constant fear and might look ineffective if students were silently reading a satisfying story. In the first instance, a tyrannical teacher might be rated effective on the GRS scale, while an excellent teacher might appear ineffective in the second instance.

The idea that this powerful foundation is setting in motion a means of measuring physiological responses to teachers is deeply disturbing. The act of teaching is complex. It involves art, science, and craft. Learning is far more than can be measured by a GRS bracelet. At any given moment, students may be engaged or disengaged. They may be thinking about what happened at home that morning or a spat with their best friend. They may be worried about their mother’s illness or looking forward to going to the movies. They may be hungry and feeling anxious or they may be hungry and excited about having lunch.

Some aspects of the human experience are more important than teacher evaluation. Like our human dignity, our right to privacy, our need to be treated with basic respect as individuals with the power to shape our own destiny, not just as creatures to be tested, measured, and shaped by the will of others.

Yes, there is a Brave New World quality to the prospect of using wireless sensors to measure physiological reactions to teachers. Yes, there is a line that separates educationally sound ideas from crackpot theories. Yes, there is reason to be concerned about the degree of wisdom–or lack thereof– that informs the decisions of the world’s richest and most powerful foundations. And yes, we must worry about what part of our humanity is inviolable, what part of our humanity cannot be invaded by snoopers, what part of our humanity is off-limits to those who wish to quantify our experience and use it for their own purposes, be it marketing or teacher evaluation.

The line has been crossed.


A reader writes:

What grabbed me was this part:
“electrodermal activity that grows higher during states such as excitement, attention or anxiety and lower during states such as boredom or relaxation.”

So, this means that they can’t tell the difference between excitement, attention and anxiety? So all you have to do is keep a class in constant fear and you ace the evaluation? It also can’t tell the difference between boredom and relaxation. So if you’re doing “sustained silent reading,” which is it? Are students supposed to be “on” all the time?

I’m not a teacher, and even I can see that this is a huge steaming pile. But it got them a $500K grant! Nice work if you can get it – and stomach it.

Let’s see now. The teacher who keeps the class in a state of high anxiety gets points on the “effectiveness” scale. The teacher whose students are feeling at ease in the classroom will get a low rating.

If this reader saw through this flaw, why did no one at the Gates Foundation?

Last night, I googled “galvanic response skin” and got thousands of hits. It is happening, it has many uses apparently.

But surely you can see how it can be used to mine classroom data, to find out whose students sit on the edge of their seats in a state of alertness, attention and anxiety, and whose are slacking off.

Data mining is now a customary part of the business of online corporations who record our every move, which web pages we open, which products we buy online, which books we are interested in. All of this information is assembled, filtered, and compressed into a personalized profile, so that advertisers can target us with their messages wherever we go on the ‘Net. No point advertising automobile products to me, but they will be just right for someone else. Once gathered, this information can be sold and resold.

Once you understand the template, you can understand the logic of the Galvanic Response Skin bracelets. They will be one more piece of “objective” data to add to test scores, student surveys, and observations when evaluating a teacher. He or she may contest the observations, but how can they protest the objective readings of students’ skin responses to instructions?

And think of the professional development opportunities! Soon there will be workshops on how to increase your students’ GRS ratings. And there will be trained GSR facilitators and GSR measurement experts and GSR coaches.

It all fits so nicely with the U.S. Department of Education’s huge investment in data warehouses for every state. Before long, there will be a statistical profile for every student, compiled from their vital statistics at birth to their pre-kindergarten readiness assessments to everything that happens thereafter.

And to what end?


Okay, so I have posted a few blogs about the galvanic skin response monitors that measure one’s physiological level of engagement, and now I am getting into the swing of things. I understand that this “engagement pedometer” will be strapped to my wrist and called a bracelet. I understand it will know me better than I know myself, and it will communicate that information to nameless others. They will find things out about me. Like what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what makes me angry. But most important, they will find out what I want to buy!

So here is a website that says the future is not so far away. It says that in the not distant future, I will learn to communicate with products and they will communicate with me. Products will learn to be social, and I (or you, probably not I)  will talk to the products. I would not need to know my own mind, because my bracelet will make sure that the products know my mind. What a relief! At first, I wondered if this website was a parody, but given the techie ads all over it, I assumed that it is for real.

My friend Diana Senechal figured all of this out, and I am guessing she never saw the Salesforce-Biometric website just mentioned. Read her side-splitting account of the day she spent with her galvanic bracelet and her fruitless efforts to get free of it.

There are times when the best response to crazy stuff is to laugh.


Laura Chapman read Andy Hargreaves’ provocative article about the educational technology we will need in the future, and she responded with this comment:

Andy Hargreaves says: “We need to create conditions for technologically enhanced learning that are universal, public and free to those who need it.”

Yes. But that is unlikely to happen in the United States, even if available elsewhere. In our market-based economy, the expression “digital learning,” should be understood as the opportunity for tech companies to learn as much as they wish about the users of their devices and software. The best we seem able to do is offer legislation that attempts to limit exploitation of data being gathered by technologies.

For example, The National Biometric Information Privacy Act, proposed by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley, is not likely to pass. The Act would require a business to secure prior written consent from individuals before the business could use any of their immutable characteristics captured by facial recognition or any other biometric systems. See

Also dead in the water is S. 1341 (114th Congress): Student Privacy Protection Act, introduced May 15, 2015, read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. This bill was intended to prohibit the use of federal funds for tech-based data gathering enabled by technology. Here is a small sample of the intended prohibitions:
—No federal funds for analysis of facial expressions, EEG brain wave patterns, skin conductance, galvanic skin response, heart-rate variability, pulse, blood volume, posture, and eye-tracking.
—No measures or data about psychological resources, mindsets, learning strategies, effortful control, attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, intrapersonal and interpersonal resources, or any other type of social, emotional, or psychological parameter.
—A special rule exempts data collection required by the Disabilities Education Act.
But there was more.
—No federal funds can be used for video monitoring of classrooms in the school, for any purpose, including for teacher evaluation, without the approval of the local educational agency after a public hearing and the written consent of the teacher and the parents of all students in the classroom. These restrictions apply to outside parties (e.g., researchers) as well.
—No federal funds for computing devices with remote camera surveillance software without the approval of the local educational agency after a public hearing, and for teachers or students without the written consent of the teacher and the parent of each affected student.
—Section 5 of the bill defines PII, personally identifiable information, and prohibited data-gathering that could reveal, without authorization, the identity of a student (e.g., SSNs, student numbers, biometric records), indirect identifiers (e.g., date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name). As far as I know, that bill is the only legislation that has come close to putting some brakes on rampant data-gathering enabled by ed-tech.

It is easy to suppose that edtech will thrive in the midst of our COVID-19 pandemic. Not so fast warns Mark Schneiderman, the senior director of education policy for the Software & Information Industry Association. He claims the ed tech industry is facing downsizing from the pandemic’s crunch on school budgets. He says “Communication and information sharing platforms like Google, Zoom, and SchoolMessenger are among the big ‘winners’” but thousands of software companies may be in trouble. He offers predictions about the market for edtech and repeats talking points about the importance of edtech on behalf of the profit-seekers whom is represents.

Meanwhile the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign, the major non-profit preoccupied with data-gathering on a large scale claims that data from edtech is necessary for “student success.” It postures about student privacy issues, but this “campaign” is eager to see more data gathering on students and teachers at scale and longitudinally, including results from the Common Core and associated state tests.

The Data Quality Campaign has just released a new messaging brief with two partners known for promoting the Common Core standards and testing–the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Collaborative for Student Success. The brief tells states how they should measure “student growth” in 2021, given that most states have no 2020 statewide assessment data.”

This brief is an effort to keep statewide testing (and the Common Core) alive through messaging and marketing. The brief cites and exaggerates the importance of three “push surveys” designed to asset that teachers and parents really want so-called “growth scores.” A growth scores is a euphemism for year-to-year gains in test scores. This brief also cites and promotes SAS, the marketers of discredited value-added calculations known as EVASS (Education Value-Added Assessment System). In other words, the drumbeat for terrible policies goes on and from unelected policy shapers who use their non-profit status for lobbying.

It is no surprise that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the three organizations claiming credit for this brief. The Gates Foundation has sent the Data Quality Campaign $25.3 million in 15 grants and The Alliance for Excellent Education $27 million in 15 grants. The Collaborative for Student Success is described as “a multi-donor fund” investing in “messaging efforts that build support for high standards, high-quality aligned assessments, and systems of accountability that promote success for all students.” The Collaborative is funded by ExxonMobil and five major foundations, among them the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as detailed by Mercedes Schneider here.

This is to say that market forces are not just operating in public education but that the wealth of nonprofits is well-organized to push ed-tech.

We are not now, or in the foreseeable future likely to see anything close to “conditions for technologically enhanced learning that are universal, public and free to those who need it.”

Our national and state policies are designed to subsidize profit-seeking from education.

The National Science Foundation has awarded grants of $4.8 million to several prominent research universities to advance the use of Big Data in the schools.

Benjamin Herold writes in Education Week:

“The National Science Foundation earlier this month awarded a $4.8 million grant to a coalition of prominent research universities aiming to build a massive repository for storing, sharing, and analyzing the information students generate when using digital learning tools.

“The project, dubbed “LearnSphere,” highlights the continued optimism that “big” educational data might be used to dramatically transform K-12 schooling.

“It also raises new questions in the highly charged debate over student-data privacy.

“The federally funded initiative will be led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, who propose to construct a new data-sharing infrastructure that is distributed across multiple institutions, include third-party and for-profit vendors. When complete, LearnSphere is likely to hold a massive amount of anonymous information, including:

“Clickstream” and other digital-interaction data generated by students using digital software provided to schools by LearnSphere participants;

“Chat-window dialogue sent by students participating in some online courses and tutoring programs;

“Potentially, “affect” and biometric data, including information generated from classroom observations, computerized analysis of students’ posture, and sensors placed on students’ skin.

“Proponents say that facilitating the sharing and analysis of such information for research purposes can lead to new insights about how humans learn, as well as rapid improvements to the digital learning software flooding now flooding schools.”

Whoa! The Gates-funded “galvanic skin response monitors” are back! Two years ago, it seemed to be a joke but it’s no joke. Researchers are still trying to gauge biometric reactions with sensors placed on students’ skin.

This really is Brave New World stuff.

Just think: Your tax dollars will help to fund a project to mine your children’s data and turn that data over to for-profit vendors to sell things to the children and their schools.

What can we do about it? Refuse to use digital learning tools in school. Don’t give them the data. Use pencils and pens. Now we understand why the two federally-funded Common Core testing consortia must be tested online and online only. This is the means of producing the data that will be mined.

This is all very sick. It has nothing to do with education and everything to do with violating the rights of families and children. No child will be better educated by mining their data, observing their posture, and monitoring their skin responses. this NOT ABOUT LEARNING. This is about money. Greed. Profits. And we are paying for it.

A high school in San Antonio initiated a bizarre requirement this fall.

Every student is expected to wear an electronic badge, presumably so the district knows how many students are in school and can track their movement.

When a student objected on religious grounds to wearing the tag , the district suspended her.

She is suing the district.

The district claims it needs to follow every student so as to make sure it was getting all the state money that is tried to attendance.

But there are genuine reasons to be concerned about breaches of civil liberties.

This affair is but one more evidence of intrusive practices that technology makes possible.

When we go online, someone somewhere is tracking whatever we do, whatever we purchase, which websites we visit, and this information is then sold to other companies.

Our personal information is being marketed without our knowledge or permission.

What is it that seems so objectionable about asking all students to wear a barcode?

Well, to begin with, they are human beings, not products on a grocery shelf.

People should not be treated as inventory.

When I think about tracking people, I think of the anklets that people are required to wear by judges, because they might be a risk to flee the country or go into hiding.

But students are not prisoners or suspects.

This matter is reminiscent of the kerfuffle over the galvanic skin response bracelets, which students are supposed to wear so that evaluators can measure students’ excitement or engagement and simultaneously (perhaps) evaluate the teachers’ ability to get them excited or engaged.

You have to wonder, first, who dreams up these ideas, and second, who reviews and approves them.