Benchmark, OH—In order to facilitate the accumulation of teacher data and to entice students into 21st-century technology use, Benchmark Unified School District has given out 35,000 teacher evaluation gadgets, equipped with skin conductance bracelets, to students in grades K-12. The leveled, adaptive software provides a user-friendly interface for real-time evaluation of teachers while the lesson is in progress.
“Nothing could be a greater boon for us right now,” said Superintendent Bret Elony, who recently signed a multi-million-dollar contract with Quicker Data, Inc., the creator of the software. “We need to know what kids think, but a great deal of the time, they’ve forgotten the lesson as soon as it’s over. So what could be better than to have a way for them to rate it on the spot?”
The software provides students with a series of animated “prompts” followed by multiple-choice (usually yes-or-no) answers. For instance, at the start of the lesson, a young character of adjustable race pops up and asks, “Is the aim on the board?” After the student responds with “yes” or “no,” a tiger or other animal (adapted to the student’s preferences) appears and asks: “Do you understand exactly what you are expected to learn today?” and then: “How close is this to what you want to be learning?”
The next questions pertain to the teacher’s appearance and organization: “Does the teacher have her papers in order? Does she have efficient routines for collection and distribution of student work?” The next questions have to do with the minilesson: “Are you happy with the length of the minilesson? Were you bored or confused at any point? Did the teacher provide you with enough information for your group work task?” (If there is no group work task, the student must select “n/a,” which will automatically trigger an administrator visit.
Over the course of the lesson, the skin conductance bracelet sends signals to the software, which translates them into “engagement” levels. “We didn’t want students to have to rate their own engagement while they were being engaged, or not,” said Elony. “That could get confusing.” If the overall engagement goes below a certain level, a red light goes on at the front of the room; if the engagement level is high, a green light goes on. An administrator passing by can easily spot these lights.
During the group work portion of the lesson, the animated characters (now butterflies and birds) ask questions such as, “Is the teacher moving around the room to help the various groups? Do you have the materials you need to complete your task? If you want to change your grouping, do you feel comfortable taking the initiative?”
“I find this incredibly distracting,” complained Hecate Loomis, an eighth grader. “How am I supposed to get anything out of the lesson if I have to rate it every few seconds?” She was swiftly booed by a few others, who said they liked the software precisely for that reason.
“Class is a lot less boring now,” said her classmate Bob Tull. “Plus, for every three evaluations we complete, we get a free video game. I have better video games at home, but this is cool because I can play it during lunch.”
“And we’re generating data,” piped in Abby Lombardo. “We’ve been told that the more data we generate, the more we’ll be able to customize our own world.”
“That’s exactly the spirit,” affirmed a representative of Quicker Data, Inc. “While the main goal is to rate teachers swiftly, we’re all about customization. We’re helping to build a world where kids like everything they’re doing, all the time, where adults like their jobs, and where work gets done efficiently and pleasantly, with the help of pleasant cartoons.” Of course, he added, some teachers, students, and workers do not fit in with such a world; the software helps identify and remove them.
A few teachers have tried in vain to outwit the gadgets. One teacher rewired the lights at the front of the room so that the green light would always shine. A hidden camera filmed her in the act. Another teacher told her students to turn off the devices; she was fined (over ten thousand dollars, according to rumor) by both the school district and Quicker Data, Inc. Still others wrote letters of protest to the district; the superintendent’s reply reminded them that they needed to be open to change.
“This really is all about change, basically speaking” said Elony proudly. “We’re moving into a world where there isn’t time to think, where studies of the humanities and liberal arts are merely holding us back. We can’t keep holding onto the slow stuff. We need to get with it. Speaking of which, I know you have a lot of questions, but I’ve resolved ahead of time not to answer them. I have too much to do. Another contract is waiting to be signed.” He strode out of the room. Our questions (impostor ghosts) stayed behind; even after we left, they hung in waiting for a more inquisitive era.