Project Unicorn Partners presented on Brain Scanning, Data Interoperability, and Student Behavior at 2018

The annual edtech fest was held March 5-8, 2018. is where education software companies come to showcase their wares, predict the future of  learning, promote AI and data driven apps and online learning tools for the k-12 classroom. Several partners of Project Unicorn, including Dell and Digital Promise presented at this year’s event.

If you aren’t yet familiar with Project Unicorn, the mega funded Silicon Valley meets US Dept. of Ed alliance to make student data interoperable, read MEW’s post about Project Unicorn here.

As EductionDive reports on Day 2 at SXSWedu 2018: Paul Quinn College’s turnaround, data interoperability and learning science, Dell hosted a panel on interoperability.  According to one of the Dell panelists, interoperability  puts all of a student’s personal and past data, including behavioral data, a 360 degree view, “right there on the spot”.

Dell Foundation panel calls on districts to demand data interoperability from vendors

A packed morning panel moderated by Mike Baur, program manager for data-driven education at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, brought together three educators and administrators to discuss the need for more data interoperability. Joining Baur were Shelby County Schools teacher Brett Emerson, iLearn Collaborative COO June Marcel, and Laura Hansen, the director of information management and decision support for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

The Dell Foundation, Baur said, has investments with for-profit and non-profit organizations in areas around tools, schools, interoperability, and policy. “Without privacy and security of data, you won’t have interoperability of data,” he said, noting that it would be a “wild west” scenario…

Asked what data interoperability means, Emerson said it means having a 360-degree view of student data, information on past test scores, attendance, behavior, etc. right there on the spot, readily available to be used effectively.” –Dell Foundation panel on interoperability [Emphasis added]


Digital Promise, another Project Unicorn partner, also moderated panel on BRAIN SCANNERS to measure students.

How can educators put learning science research to work?

In an afternoon panel, Digital Promise Chief Research Officer Aubrey Francisco moderated a discussion on integrating learning science into educational practice with Melina Uncapher, a University of California San Francisco assistant professsor, Ken Montgomery, the executive director of Design Tech High School, and Monica Milligan, partner at TNTP.

Uncapher said her research has involved using brain scanners to measure how students learn, but didn’t provide a good idea of how they learn in the real world. So there’s now a movement to bring that research into practice. The science of learning, she said, is the research on how people learn from many disciplines. The cognitive science gets a lot of attention, she said, but there’s also neuroscience, social science, computer science, affective science and more around it.”

Dr. Melina Uncapher, UC San Francisco professor and Director of Education Neuroscape, is also on the Board of Jefferson Education Accelerator, whom among other things helped organize the EdTech Efficacy Research Academic Symposium to test and deploy edtech, even pay teachers a stipend to pilot edtech. Uncapher also recently presented at Drexel University, entitled Learning Innovation Conversation with Melina Uncapher, January 30, 2018.  You can see video of her Drexel presentation on capturing kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learning here.

Digital Promise also reviews and offers tips on edtech pilots.


 See here for a list of edtech pilots that Digital Promise has reviewed. These Pilot Study Briefs provide findings from edtech pilots to help education leaders make evidence based product selection decisions.   Our question is where is the student and parent voice, choice and did students / parents consent to being part of these product trials, pilots?  In human subject research, individuals always must give informed consent and participation must be voluntary#Belmont
Why are students used for research and product improvement without consent?

Brain research and data mining student behavior?  Where have we heard that before?

Well, we of course know of US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ investment in Neurocore, a company who claims to treat anxiety, autism, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and boost students’ brain performance.

And we know that Bill Gates has invested millions of dollars on brain research. (Some, but not all, of the brain research investments appear in the grants database and can also be found in 990 tax returns here and (2016) here.)

Take for instance Gates’ investment in a company called BrainGaze.

The company’s website claims BrainGaze develops mindtracking solutions able to predict and identify personal behavior.  Creepy? You decide:

Braingaze develops next-generation Mind Tracking Solutions that predict and identify personal behavior for clinical and commercial applications.

The method of Braingaze (patented in 44 countries) is based on the discovery of the predictive power of small eye movements as a marker for cognitive visual processing. We call this eye movement Cognitive Vergence. Braingaze method is non-invasive, fast and can be integrated into existing eye tracking devices and software.

In most applications we engage with the test subject by means of a simple video game; the Cognitive Vergence eye movements are captured in sync with the game timing to allow us to draw very meaningful conclusions within minutes of testing.

As a first clinical application Braingaze has validated its test for diagnosing ADHD in children. In this area our technology is showing superior precision & reliability compared to any other competing ADHD test available on the market. This product was launched in a few pioneer markets… [Emphasis added]

Gates $ and BrainGaze:

page 63  2016
page 336  2016
page 31  2015
and $99,985 in 2014 for app to track eye movement

US Department of Education

Remember the US Department of Ed publications about measuring students’ facial expressions, behaviors, and educational data mining? Peruse these publications from USDoE:

Enhancing Teaching and Learning  Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics, U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology  2012

Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, SRI International  2013, See page 44 for sensors to measure emotional responses of students.

Promoting Grit’s Executive Summary reads, “There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success… —it is the responsibility of the educational community to design learning environments that promote these factors so that students are prepared to meet 21st-century challenges.
Several private foundations have recently initiated programs to push the frontiers of theory, measurement, and practice around these and related factors, particularly for at-risk and vulnerable students. In national policy, there is increasing attention on 21st-century competencies (which encompass a range of noncognitive factors, including grit), and persistence is now part of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics….

Ed Tech Developer’s Guide by US Department of Education  2015, Provides resources for developers, startups and entrepreneurs exploring opportunities to develop digital tools and apps for learning.  Learning Analytics section explains how analytics and data mining, online learning systems have the ability to capture learner behaviors.


CASEL and the Commission to standardize student behavior –SEL


NEW FOCUS ON SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING: The Aspen Institute is pulling together major education policy hitters for a new commission on social and emotional learning – a hot topic that states are exploring when it comes to holding schools and districts accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The Learning Policy Institute’s Linda Darling-Hammond, Business Roundtable President John Engler and Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver are co-chairing the commission. Others on the commission include Jim Shelton, president of education for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and former deputy secretary at the Education Department, outgoing State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The group, called the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, will be funded through 2018 by philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and others. Aspen has raised about $4.5 million for the effort.
The commission will ultimately produce a report in late 2018 with recommendations that states, districts and schools can take to develop students’ social and emotional learning and measure it in a way that produces valid results. In the two years leading up to the report, the commissioners will hold field hearings, visit schools and talk to parents, students and teachers across the country. The commission’s first meeting will be held this November. -taken from Politico Morning Education, Sept 20, 2016 [Emphasis added]

Measuring student behaviors, emotional competencies and attaching to accountability is the goal of the Commission, and most (even AIR panelists  in this 2016 webinar) admit that SEL measurements can be biased and unreliable.


Remember how inBloom planned to document students’ enthusiasm, character strengths, and ability to resist distraction? Remember the Shared Learning Collaborative, an early version of inBloom, that was meant to create a personalized instruction map for each child?  inBloom was promoted as helping teachers,  providing a way to organize all that personal student data that has to be recorded, reported, and shared.  Remember the tremendous outcry from parents and privacy groups?  Remember how inBloom, a mega funded Carnegie and Gates company, was shut down? No matter how you try to spin it, inBloom was a data sharing dashboard and sure sounds like data interoperability.

We remember.

But here’s an important clarification: Teachers do not need an app or an algorithm to measure a child’s enthusiasm or a student’s potential. Teachers know their students.  TEACHERS ALREADY HAVE ACCESS TO STUDENTS’ RECORDS, GRADES FROM PREVIOUS YEARS but parents say Silicon Valley and edtech do not need full 360-degree access to student behavioral data and longitudinal data.  Is this the “problem” that data interoperability is hoping to “fix”?

And in other related privacy news: reviewing FERPA, HIPPA, Privacy Chief leaving.

FERPA was weakened by executive rule in 2011, students’ personal data can be shared and marketed and researched without parent consent. Interestingly, President Trump has recently announced that he is reviewing FERPA and HIPPA and as Truth in American Education states,

“The White House said, “Reviews will determine if any changes or clarifications are needed to improve coordination between mental health and other healthcare professionals, school officials, and law enforcement personnel.”  There are obvious privacy concerns. FERPA needs to be strengthened and the White House’s goal is the opposite of that.”

Additionally, EdWeek reports that the US Department of Education’s Chief Privacy Officer, Kathleen Styles announced that she “is being reassigned, effective April 1, and that there are currently no plans to replace her,” according to a source familiar with the announcement. A spokeswoman for the Education Department declined to confirm the reassignment, saying the department does not comment on personnel matters.”

With a Money Ball for Kids commission backed by Unicorns, and bills sitting in the US Senate to make a National Interoperable Data System backed by same Unicorns, and Unicorns worried because parents are getting in the way and talking to their state legislators,

“Part of the reason why data privacy laws can seem so onerous to districts, state education officials and vendors is because they were written at the behest of parents interacting directly with state legislators”

clearly, we could use a change. When reviewing FERPA and HIPPA, will President Trump pave the way to share students’ mental health data, predictive social emotional behavior, and education records with Silicon Valley Unicorns? Or will President Trump catch the US up to Europe and give US citizens, including students, the right to own, consent, and control their data?  (See what is GDPR?) Should we be concerned that Bill Gates has a closed door meeting with President Trump today?