On Campus

Bill Gates to spend $1.1 million on 'mood bracelets'

Could technology really out boring teachers?

Bill Gates by World Economic Forum on Flickr

What do you get when you combine teacher evaluations, lame mood rings from the 1970s and one of the world’s richest foundations?

The answer: a $1.1-million project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fit students with mood bracelets to measure how well their teachers are engaging them in the classroom.

The bracelets work through “galvanic skin response.” In theory, sweat glands are controlled by the nervous system, so skin conductance may help measure emotional responses.

The U.S.-based National Center on Time and Learning plans to assess their effectiveness by comparing them with MRI scans. They will create a ‘scale’ to describe a student’s level of engagement—sort of like a a mood ring’s different colours.

The bracelets are part of the Microsoft founder’s Measures of Effective Teaching project, which is testing out teacher evaluation systems from standardized tests to videotaping of lectures.

If you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest waste of a million dollars…” you’re not alone.

Some teachers and commentators have expressed doubts and concerns about the project. Some point out that there are much cheaper and more effective methods of determining classroom engagement, including looking around the room and seeing how many students are on Facebook.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.