Jumpstart Issue 26: The Jumpstart Awards Issue

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Are You Paying Attention? Artificial intelligence and machine learning to drive the future of personalized education By ANDREW GEORGE


re you paying attention? Every student has heard the question. Now, imagine if a teacher no longer had to ask. Thanks to an electroencephalography-enabled (EEG) headband system from BrainCo, which is currently being tested in Chinese classrooms, this scenario is now a reality. Yes, a headband that reads minds. Or more accurately, a device that determines focus and attentiveness by measuring brainwaves. Awesome, right? As a teacher, I look past what’s advertised and at the real potential of the new device: truly personalized learning. In North America and Europe, classrooms are changing; student choice, project-based instruction, and ‘genius hour’ dominate the trend toward personalized learning. For instance, instead of having a class novel, students can pick their books. After learning the basics of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathemat20


July 2019

ics), students create their projects in ‘maker spaces.’ Teachers lecturing in front of the class is out of style. While this change seems ideal for learners, it can be a nightmare for educators. One-to-one feedback is the foundation of teacher-led learning, which is challenging to manage when 25 to 35 students are engaged in different projects. However, an EEG headband could make this more feasible and efficient if some improvements are made. What if the device could measure whether or not the student likes what they’re learning? Is the student actually reading their text? That can be measured, too. Are they genuinely looking at solving a problem, or distracted from working on the task at hand? You get the picture. However, BrainCo appears to miss the mark by only providing solutions for traditional lecture-style learning, which admittedly does still have a foothold in Asia,

as opposed to following the personalized learning trend. The real potential lies in education’s new direction, not its former. While BrainCo does mention the benefits of data, the company remains much too general in how it applies it. Educators need to be informed about how this technology can be used, as the majority are not sufficiently literate in such matters. Furthermore, I believe BrainCo is just scratching the surface of what’s to come based on the data they can obtain on learners, which would allow for the integration of AI in instructional design. Imagine: while a student reads, the headset measures engagement and how the content of each page is analyzed. Thought-provoking questions are formed by the AI when the student reaches the end of the text, and further recommended readings that cover subject are made. The AI then presents activity ideas to get the student engaged in a self-directed and curriculum-appropriate project. These activities challenge the students enough, allowing them to learn, while at the same time maintaining their comfort level based on their learner profile. While BrainCo’s system doesn’t have these capabilities yet, the company does appear to be integrating machine learning into its device to handle the data. Companies such as BrainCo need to work with teachers who are welcoming, and not resistant, to the above change. This relationship will allow teachers to connect with students on the social-emotional level rather than as an authoritative bearer of knowledge. It will foster student engagement, and create a school that’s inspiring, friendly, community-based, and tailored to the needs of every student.


Andrew teaches English and Film at Steinbach Regional Secondary School in Manitoba, Canada. He’s an award winning filmmaker, having produced short films and several broadcast documentaries. Andrew also worked as a freelance creative consultant, advising companies on marketing strategies and projects, and served as the Creative Director for Bizview Media. andrewjoegeorge.com