Education Week - June 20, 2018 - 15
Photos by Josh Ritchie for Education Week
Eighth graders at Polo Park
Middle School in Wellington,
Fla., were divided about the
idea of using software that
can identify and respond to
their emotions. Sarah
Garfield, left, and Samantha
Schube watch one of the
videos on Algebra Nation, an
algebra learning website.
Some newer entries into the socialemotional learning space, such
as San Francisco-based startup
Emote, are taking a more active
approach to monitoring students'
The company's core service is a
mobile app that makes it easier
for a wide range of school staff,
from bus drivers to teachers, to
record and share their observations
of when students appear sad, anxious,
angry, and frustrated.
Launched in 2016, Emote is already used
by 16 districts in more than a dozen states.
Here's how it works:
Imagine a student gets in an argument
with his parent before school, said CEO
Julian Golder. That morning, the boy
stomps into the school building. A staff
member at the front desk notices, so she
enters the observation directly into the
Emote app on her smartphone, selecting
from a menu of keywords ("sad") and a
color-coded scale ("blue.")
That, in turn, prompts a notification to be
sent to each of the student's teachers.
If those teachers then notice something
similar-the student has his head down
in 1st period, or seems disconnected in
3rd period-they also record their
observations in the app.
If a pattern emerges, Golder said, the
student may be at risk of "escalation,"
such as getting into a fight.
School can be fully
responsive to each student.
I think this is a really exciting
Despite their best efforts, he said,
schools often miss these kinds of
developments in the moment, leaving them
to respond to trouble after it happens.
But Emote helps adults notice and
communicate about kids' feelings and
behaviors in real time, Golder said. That
way, they can respond before something
The company also allows schools to track
students' feelings longitudinally: Maybe
the student feels angry and disconnected
every Monday morning because there's
some underlying issue at home that needs
to be addressed. Or perhaps the school's
African-American boys are consistently
feeling disconnected after a particular
class, and some observations of the
teacher are warranted.
Jane Robbins of the American Principles
Project Foundation blasted the approach,
calling it an "appalling invasion of privacy."
"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," she said.
But Golder said his company is receiving
more interest from schools and districts
than it can handle.
"School can be fully responsive to each
student," Golder said. "I think this is a
really exciting vision." n
ALGEBRA NATION/VIRTUAL LEARNING LAB
In 2016, the World Economic Forum and the
better learner," he said.
Boston Consulting Group issued a report on the
That view has support from high places. The
future of ed tech and social-emotional learning. Algebra Nation project, for example, is funded
The groups highlighted several broad
via an $8.9 million grant from the federal
categories of technology as a way to "expand
Institute of Education Sciences, the research
the realm of the possible." Among them is
arm of the U.S. Department of Education.
affective computing, in which machines are
But recent controversies in other sectors have
trained to recognize, interpret, and simulate
started to cast the use of technology to track
student emotions in a critical new light.
That's what's happening in West Palm
Take the recent Facebook-Cambridge
Beach, Fla. with Algebra Nation.
Analytica scandal, in which millions' of
Based on the research being conducted now,
users had sensitive information about their
some students next spring may interact with a
preferences and personalities misused as part
version of the software that will analyze their
of an effort to influence their votes during the
individual click patterns in real-time to identify
2016 presidential election.
when they're becoming bored or
The controversy helped make the
frustrated. If the predictions
K-12 world more aware of
prove sufficiently accurate,
the possible unintended
the software will
consequences of using
respond in the
in schools, said
a lecturer at the
Stirling in the
Carrell and her
Lecturer, University of Stirling,
School were conflicted
about the idea, calling it
both "cool" and "creepy."
But more pernicious,
University of Colorado Boulder
he believes, is the potential for
professor Sidney D'Mello, the project
attempts at behavior modification.
head and a national leader in the affective"If you generate detailed information about
computing field, acknowledged the privacy
students' feelings, then it becomes possible to
concerns. But he said some level of risk is
target them in sophisticated ways in order to
necessary in order to pursue a promising new
nudge them to behave in ways that conform
vision of education.
with a particular, idealized model of a 'good
"If I could always have teachers that are
student,' " Williamson said.
adapting to me, looking at my mistakes, giving
Advocates and critics do agree on one thing:
me motivation and supports, and then backing
"This technology is powerful," Williamson said,
away and giving me room, I think I'd be a much
"and it could have real consequences." n
"This technology is
powerful, and it could
have real consequences."
Coverage of social and emotional
learning is supported in part by a
grant from the NoVo Foundation, at
Week retains sole editorial control over
the content of this coverage.
EDUCATION WEEK | June 20, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 15