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New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

BrainCo

From students attending school in the form of telepresence robots to virtual reality field trips, the classroom of the future is going to look very, very different to the one we grew up with. The latest example of this? A study carried out involving 10,000 school-aged children between 10 and 17 in China, in which students were given brainwave-reading headbands to check if they are concentrating. Created by the Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo, the Focus headbands promise to tattle on those who stop paying attention — all in the best interests of the students, of course.

The Focus utilizes embedded electroencephalography (EEG) sensors, designed for measuring changes in brain waves. By looking at fluctuations in the brain’s high-frequency beta waves and low-frequency alpha and theta waves, the headband can reportedly give an indication of whether students are engaged in a particular task. The Focus will even rat you out publicly by flashing different color lights according to how much you’re focusing.

“Focus EDU provides in-class, contextually relevant, and ongoing feedback enabling teachers to make sustained improvements in their teaching skills,” the company’s website notes. “Meanwhile, students develop ownership of their learning experience. Students and parents can track learning improvements, while administrators can identify the most engaging activities and methods to help spread best practices.”

In the recent Focus headband study, students in China typically saw a 10 percent improvement in grades, while also reducing the amount of time they needed to spend to complete homework.

“From what we have seen in our pilot studies and in-house research, students with the highest attention level perform the best on quizzes and tests,” Max Newlon, who carries out “product definition” for Focus, told Digital Trends. “This makes sense intuitively. In practice, teachers can get a real-time indication not only of how engaged a student is, but how well they will likely do on follow-up exams, instead of waiting until the test to assess their performance. We’ve run studies with the MIT Media Lab, as well, that will expand on our findings. In addition, we’re running pilots in the USA that will elucidate the function and impact on our technology.”

Newlon said the team is currently concluding a pilot study at Catholic Memorial in Boston, where five teachers are putting the system through its paces. Another pilot study will take place in the midwest soon. “We also have a strong interest from Spain and Latin America where we are launching a brainwave education project,” he concluded.

A teacher’s dream tool or an example of Orwellian technology gone too far? It’s up to you to decide. One thing’s for sure, though: It’s on its way.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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