Coming to a classroom near you ... Touchy-feely technology

From emoticons to real emotions

The increasing use of data in schools has led some to claim that emotion is being taken out of education, with students no longer seen as human beings but as faceless numbers flowing across a screen, Matrix-style.

Speakr, a new web-based system developed in the UK, aims to confound that stereotype by applying a data-style strategy to measuring student emotions.

"There are a lot of big computer systems that gather data about children, but none that enables schools to understand how their students are feeling across the school, and none that enables children to speak for themselves," says Speakr founder Anthony Lewis.

Until now. Students can log on to Lewis' web-based system via any device. They can then click on a face that most closely reflects how they feel and enter a description of their mood.

"A few of the schools we've worked with use methods like coloured cards to enable the children to indicate the mood they're in, but Speakr provides a way for schools to do this on a large scale," Lewis says.

The system is in the pilot stage and schools can sign up for free to test how useful it may prove to be. Yet some teachers may have an issue with moving yet another conversation online instead of it taking place face to face. Lewis shared this fear.

"I showed the prototype to Paul Stallard, a clinical psychologist and professor of child and family mental health at the University of Bath. Professor Stallard's view was that Speakr was not replacing conversation. It was prompting one," Lewis says. "'Digital natives' are profoundly comfortable using technology to communicate, and we found that children felt much more able to write about how they were feeling than approach an adult."

Lewis says that the system is not trying to replace teacher judgement, but complement it. Teachers who have used it certainly seem to appreciate it.

'Assessing well-being is a challenge for all schools and Speakr will be a boost to the schools that use it," says Delyth Williams, headteacher at Ysgol Bryn Teg in Llanelli, Wales.

The pilot stage runs until January 2014 and initially the focus will be on primary schools. However, Lewis says that exploratory conversations have taken place about applications for secondary schools.

Who knows? By this time next year, teachers may have their own system, although whether any headteacher is ready to know what their teachers really think is open to debate...

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