What Can Teachers Learn by Strapping Brain-Monitoring Devices to Students?

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It’s a bit of a mystery what goes on inside the brain when students learn. But thanks to relatively new breakthroughs in portable EEG devices, which can measure the brain’s electrical activity in what are known as brainwaves, researchers are able to run experiments in classrooms as never before.

Ido Davidesco, an assistant professor of learning sciences at the University of Connecticut, says such research will yield insights that can help teachers do their jobs better. One area he’s exploring involves trying to better understand what teaching practices best hold students’ attention. “This question became even more timely and relevant [during the pandemic] because students and teachers find it really hard to concentrate in both face-to-face and virtual environments, especially virtual environments,” he argues.

He admits, though, that the technology must be used carefully. For instance, he is against the use of EEG devices as part of everyday teaching (instead of just for research), as some edtech companies have encouraged. “Neuroscience data can be very easily misinterpreted or misused,” he says, and there are ethical concerns as well.

The research is part of a growing field known as Mind, Brain and Education, or MBE. One longtime teacher who advocates for more research in the area is Kristin Simmers, who is about to start a Ph.D. program working with Davidesco at University of Connecticut.

For Simmers, her interest in education is intensely personal. She has a younger brother who was diagnosed with a specific learning difference, and she originally took an education course as an elective during her undergraduate studies to learn more about what might help him.

That turned into a career in education, and some 16 years in the classroom.

For this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we connected for a joint interview with Davidesco and Simmers, to dive into what happens when you mix the studies of Mind, Brain and Education.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.

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