PUBLISHED: 07:21 EST, 12 June 2012 | UPDATED: 09:59 EST, 12 June 2012
Microsoft supremo Bill Gates wants to fit school students with mood bracelets to measure how interested they are in their lessons.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is spending $1.1 million (£700,000) testing galvanic skin response bracelets to see if they can measure whether students find their teachers engaging.
The move is part of the billionaire’s mission to evaluate and improve the quality of teachers, which has already included controversial initiatives such as fitting classrooms with video cameras.
The bracelets measure how well the skin conducts electricity, which varies with its moisture level.
Sweat glands are controlled by the nervous system so skin conductance can be used as an indication of emotional response.
Some US teachers and commentators have been less than impressed with the plan.
‘Why would anybody spent money on this when some school systems can’t afford to pay their electric bills?’ Education blogger Valerie Strauss wrote in the Washington Post.
‘The obsession with measurement in data and school reform has reached nutty new heights.’
Teacher Anthony Cody, writing in Education Week, commented: ‘The wonderful thing about having human beings as teachers is that we are naturally empathetic. We do not need galvanic skin sensors to detect when our students are drowsy or disinterested — we can look around the room in an instant and know!’
Others have pointed out limitations with the bracelets, including that they are not able to tell whether a student was responding to their teacher or something a friend whispers in their ear.
The bracelets are also so far unable to distinguish whether a heightened response is due to excitement or anxiety, and whether a drop is response is due to relaxation or boredom.
The amount Bill Gates has spent on evaluating the bracelets is already more than $1.1 million.
Clemson University has been given almost $500,000 (£320,000) to run a pilot study ‘which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.’
The National Center on Time and Learning was given more than $620,000 ($400,000) to assess the effectiveness of the bracelets by comparing them with MRI scans, and work out a scale that would pinpoint how engaged a student was in lessons.