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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Tech that monitor kids’ feelings: Creepy or … ?


technology to monitor students’ feelings is sparking privacy concerns, reports Benjamin Herold on Education Week. No kidding.

All school year, Kaylee Carrell has been watching online math videos using a free software platform called Algebra Nation. What the Florida 8th grader didn’t know: The software was also watching her. As part of her nightly homework, Carrell might start a video, watch an instructor explain a concept, rewind to review, press pause when she was ready to solve a problem, and post messages to the Facebook-style “wall” if she needed help. Occasionally, a brief survey might pop up. Behind the scenes, the software was diligently tracking all that activity, anonymously logging the clicks and keystrokes of Carrell and more than 200,000 other students. As part of an $8.9 million federal grant project, researchers then used machine-learning techniques to search for patterns. Their ultimate goal: improve student learning by teaching the software to pinpoint when children are feeling happy, bored, or engaged.

Researchers want to go beyond tracking academic skills to analyze “when students are distracted, whether they’re willing to embrace new challenges, and if they can control their impulses and empathize with the emotions of those around them,” writes Herold.

One (company) administers online surveys to more than 7 million students a year, generating a massive database about children’s “grit” and “growth mindset.” Others claim they can improve children’s “impulse control” through video games; provide parents with a “high-dimensional psychometric profile” of their preschoolers; and allow school staffers to use smartphones to continually record their observations of students’ feelings. Meanwhile, cutting-edge researchers are also exploring facial recognition, eye-tracking, wearable devices, and even virtual reality as ways to better gauge what students are feeling.

Conservatives and libertarians are dubious, writes Herold.

“Sorry, but I don’t want the government knowing how my child’s mind works,” said Jane Robbins, an attorney and senior fellow with the American Principles Project Foundation, a think tank that promotes individual liberty. “The idea of telling children that even their feelings are not private, and that we’re going to constantly surveil them and analyze them, is just un-American.”

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