Could Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets replace other methods of teacher evaluation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about student engagement since my trip to Nottingham a couple of weeks ago. The theme of that conference was ‘student engagement’ and my task was to speak about the National Student Survey. During the course of the discussion a student opined that student engagement is often seen as synonymous with doing surveys of students. And as I often hear students are getting all surveyed out.

The news that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given over $1 million to Clemson University to research “‘Galvanic’ bracelets that measure student engagement” is responded to with incredulity by Valerie Strauss in her blog for the Washington Post. Clemson University’s website describes the project thus:

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.

According to Wikipedia (a source I only use for find out things I don’t know anything about), Galvanisitc Skin Response (GSR) is also known as skin conductance:

Skin conductance, also known as galvanic skin response (GSR), electrodermal response (EDR), psychogalvanic reflex (PGR), skin conductance response (SCR) or skin conductance level (SCL), is a method of measuring the electrical conductance of the skin, which varies with its moisture level. This is of interest because the sweat glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system,so skin conductance is used as an indication of psychological or physiological arousal. There has been a long history of electrodermal activity research, most of it dealing with spontaneous fluctuations or reactions to stimuli.

Whilst I share Strauss’s scepticism (despite my total ignorance of this field of study), this project brings in another dimension to debates about measuring student engagement. Is there a ‘Brave New World’ in which teacher evaluation instruments will be replaced with student sweat analysis?  Will the perception of scientific objectivity appeal to policy makers?

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