Update: Foundation provides info on how website error occurred

Yesterday, I wrote about $1.1 million in grants that Bill Gates’s foundation made to develop bracelets that could measure how engaged students were in class. Today, the foundation said that one of the descriptions of the grants that I included in my post was actually wrong on its Web site and that it is fixing it.

A foundation spokesman said that the purpose of the $498,055 grant to Clemson University — which was awarded in November — is not related to teacher evaluation and that the Web site shouldn’t have said it was. Chris Williams, spokesman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in an e-mail that the original grant description was being fixed. He said mistakes are made “from time to time.”

In a later email he said the foundation staffer who writes grant descriptions for the website is usually not the program officer who writes the grant proposal and recommendation. The foundation is working to improve the process of writing about the grants, he said.

The original description of the Clemson grant said:

Purpose: to work with members of the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) team to measure engagement physiologically with Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) bracelets which will determine the feasibility and utility of using such devices regularly in schools with students and teachers.

The new description of the grant’s purpose will say:

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.

The description of the $621,265 grant given at the same time to the National Center on Time and Learning was accurate:

Purpose: to measure engagement physiologically with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Galvanic Skin Response to determine correlations between each measure and develop a scale that differentiates different degrees or levels of engagement.

Williams said that the foundation does not envision that a GSR monitoring device would become part of teacher evaluation. Responding to my question about how the project came to be developed, he said in an e-mail:

“The genesis of the project came in similar research done with autistic students, which found that they often were engaged in learning, even when it did not seem that they were from outward appearances.

“The pilot study will be small — some 100 students — and is still in the early stages of design. The foundation is funding, rather conducting this research, as part of its overall portfolio of grants designed to support promising research.”

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