The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts college in Southern California, is going to try to measure the impact of international education on students by scanning their brains:
Last fall researchers at Westmont started a study that uses headsets to test electrical activity in the brains of 30 freshmen. The students will be scanned again in two years, after they have had a chance to study abroad, and they will be scanned once more after they graduate. The tests can be used to measure empathy and nine categories of "executive functions," which include areas like memory, reasoning, and problem solving, said Gayle D. Beebe, Westmont’s president….
The theory, Mr. Beebe said, is that students who spend 15 weeks abroad in a highly structured, fully immersive program end up with a greater intellectual capacity and an increased ability to work with people from different cultures than do their peers who stay on the campus. That’s an important matter at Westmont, where Mr. Beebe said about 70 percent of students study abroad.
The college has big plans for its study. This fall Westmont’s psychology and neuroscience professors will scan another group of 30 students and continue monitoring the initial group, with the hope of securing funds to scan an entire class of about 325 students. Mr. Beebe said the tests would let campus officials build a "databank" to help them "shape some of the experiences and teachings" in Westmont’s curriculum.
It’s an interesting idea, but scientists the Chronicle talked to are skeptical, mainly because EEG is a poor tool for measuring what they want to measure, and it’s not clear that you can sort out the effects of foreign study from other factors, anyway. Neurologist Robert Burton, whose work I quite admire, is quoted as saying, "I was trying to think of something more ridiculous, but I couldn’t."
Nonetheless, the idea of using brain imaging or other tools in education is bound to become more popular. Some of the programs might even tell you something that other kinds of tests, or the biographies of students, don’t. Stranger things have happened