Device Identifying Students’ Attention Levels Heads Toward Schools

Published December 5, 2017

 “When students use the Focus 1, teachers can immediately tell when their students are in a low attention state or high attention state,” a video released by BrainCo, Inc. in January 2017 says. “With Focus 1, teachers are notified if real time classroom average attention span level drops too low. They can then re-engage their students.… With Focus 1, school administrators can use big data analysis to determine when students are better able to concentrate and can optimize course schedules.”

Focus 1 was developed by the Harvard Center for Brain Science and Center for Education, the video states.

“BrainCo just scored $15 million in venture funding from Chinese investors, and has welcomed a prominent Harvard education dean, who will serve as an adviser,” reported in October 2017. “The company says it has a working prototype and is in conversations with a Long Island school to pilot the headset.

“The headband raises questions from neuroscientists and psychologists, who say little evidence exists to support what the device-and-dashboard combination aims to do,” EdSurge reported. “It also raises legal questions, like what BrainCo will do with students’ biometric data.”

Says Govt. Is ‘Bribing Schools’

Duke Pesta, a tenured university professor of English and academic director of FreedomProject Academy, says schools may adopt brainwave data technology to receive funding from the federal government, even if teachers do not support it.

“Schools have demonstrated over the last 15 years that they are willing to subject kids to any experimentation if they get money for it,” Pesta said. “The federal government is bribing schools to try this stuff. Our public schools have reached the point that, if they get paid for it, they will subject our kids to just about anything.

“Teachers don’t have much choice,” Pesta said. “Much of the new education paradigms they are forced to operate under, they dislike. But they must do it.”

‘Power of the Purse’

Pesta says many private companies use government to mandate use of their products.

“A lot of private companies are putting bids into the federal government,” Pesta said. “They are creating these technologies and marketing them to the federal government. The federal government has access to schoolkids and can use [its] power of the purse to compel schools to do this.”

Pesta says it’s to be expected government schools would be interested in enacting this kind of brain-analysis technology.

“If we allow the public schools to act like parents by feeding our kids three meals a day [and] teaching them morality and sex in middle school, we can’t be surprised that they will take it further, including these invasive biometric measurements,” Pesta said.

Potential for Misinterpretation

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, says teachers are unlikely to be qualified to analyze such complex information.

“Data can easily be misinterpreted,” Stoops said. “Students could be paying attention to something that has nothing to do with the lesson being taught. Teachers are in no position to be able to interpret this kind of data. Even if they were, they may interpret it wrongly and assume a student is paying attention when in reality [he or she] is not actually paying attention.

“A good rule with using data in education is that it [should] be interpreted easily by classroom teachers who have a minimal amount of experience interpreting data, and certainly that’s not the case here,” Stoops said.

Ethical, Effectiveness Concerns

Stoops says the potential for privacy violations in the use of this technology raises ethical questions.

“It’s not necessarily companies that are collecting the data, it’s usually government entities,” Stoops said. “What would happen with the data? How secure would it be? These are questions that need to be addressed before the data has been collected, not after.”

Stoops says this technology is unlikely to improve student achievement.

“Teachers over the last 20 years have been inundated with data about their students,” Stoops said. “They have been given unprecedented tools that allow them to interpret that data. But student achievement has not improved in any meaningful way despite these data-gathering efforts.”

Lindsey Schulenburg ([email protected]) writes from Chicago, Illinois.