A new frame of mind: EEG headsets transform learning for neuroscience students

Donation of 50 wearable EEG headsets is bringing modern neuroscience research to undergraduate psychology students at UAlberta.

Katie Willis - 2 September 2020

Fifty EEG headsets, donated by InteraXon, the makers of Muse® the Brain Sensing Headband, are changing the way that undergraduate students learn in the University of Alberta’s Department of Psychology. 

“EEG, also known as an electroencephalogram, takes an electrical measure of brain activity,” explained Kyle Mathewson, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience. “When large groups of neurons are active together, they create an electrical signal that is large enough to be measured on the outside of the head.”

InteraXon is a Toronto-based company that specializes in wearable brain sensing technology such as the Muse headband, a low-profile, wearable device that measures activity in the wearer’s brain. Traditional EEG technology has simply been too expensive for large-scale teaching. But advances in the field by companies such as InteraXon have made these tools vastly more accessible—and therefore an excellent tool for teaching undergraduate students.

 Transformational learning

“I have been transforming my normal third-year lecture class to a hands-on class where students learn about the brain and mind through real reproducible experiments and data analysis,” said Mathewson, who is also a member of UAlberta'sNeuroscience and Mental Health Institute (NHMI). “Instead of reading books, watching lectures, seeing live demos, or analyzing fake data, students in this class have real experience with EEG recording and analysis. These students also get experience using this data and analysis to write up reports of their research.” 

Thanks to InteraXon, each pair of students in Mathewson’s 100-person undergraduate neuroscience course receives their own headset to use for the semester, providing hands-on research experience that simulates modern neuroscience research. 

"Using the MUSE was an amazing experience,” said Michael Calaresu, a student in Mathewson’s course. “Every week, you'd go to class, and within a few minutes, the whole room was busy recording their own brain waves. It felt like we'd gone from just reading about neuroscience to actually practicing it. Hands-on learning really changes how you think about the stuff you're studying.” 

"Making clinical-grade EEG research affordable and accessible to a wider audience was a key business goal for us from the very beginning,” explained Ariel Garten, co-founder of InteraXon. “We’re excited to be equipping University of Alberta with Muse technology that will allow students to learn to study the brain in real-life situations, and even allow researchers to do neuroscience in their own homes. Dr. Mathewson's lab is a great example of how new models of learning can unlock new insights into complex structures like the brain.”

Operating in the new normal

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of teaching in postsecondary institutions around the globe, the portable and accessible nature of the EEG headsets may allow students to continue this valuable learning from home in the very near future. 

“This donation is contributing to the creation of a large group of future graduates with a strong background in scientific literacy gained from hands-on experience with new technologies,” added Mathewson. “Many will move on to other vocations, but the experimental and analytical skills will provide them great advantage no matter where they end up. As we plan for the potential of no in-person classes in the near future, we are thinking about ways to send out these EEG headsets to students to use at home in the weekly experiments.” 

This project was a collaboration between InteraXon, the University of Alberta, and NeurotechX, a global club of like-minded scientists, engineers, and students interested in new technologies in neuroscience.

Curious to learn more about cutting-edge research in the Faculty of Science? Read more stories about our neuroscience research and teaching.

About Muse® by Interaxon Inc.

At Muse®, our team of neuroscientists, meditation teachers, and engineers develop state-of-the-art experiences using research-grade EEG technology. Our goal is to help individuals build a rewarding meditation practice and live healthier, happier, more connected lives through human-centered technology. Our award-winning neurofeedback devices, and premium content offering of guided meditations with responsive learning functionality, help users meditate by providing real-time audio feedback on their meditative state through the Muse® companion app. We make the intangible, tangible.

More information about Muse® is available at www.choosemuse.com