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Harvard Study Reveals Our Hands-On Remote Labs Really Work

byb remote labs

Fully remote, fully in-person, or somewhere in a sweet spot between the two. Those are the main safety concerns that are being laid right now in front of the decision makers, on behalf of students, parents, teachers and everyone around them, right at the kickoff of the new academic year. But whichever model prevails, it might turn out to be a temporary fix to a permanent problem. Furthermore, it doesn’t provide an answer to the key educational concern. How to empower the remote so that it can fully substitute the in-person if need be?

This issue is especially relevant to teaching STEM. How will an educator facilitate hands-on, project based learning without projects that students can actually get their hands on? In other words, is the “learning” part of the “distance learning” equation going to be reluctantly surrendered to a lesser evil scenario?

Even as COVID-19 begins to stretch out from a single season into an era, it’s becoming clear that distance learning might be here to stay. But it’s not a reason to despair if you’re a teacher or a parent, or both. Quite the contrary – there are ways to leverage all the good aspects of learning from the comfort of one’s couch and still provide hands-on (or should we say: gloves-on?) engagement.

A groundbreaking study by researchers from Purdue and Harvard Universities (DeBoer et al., 2017) has shown it, using our very own Neuron SpikerBox kit. Online learning, the study has found, yields remarkable results when complemented with at-home lab kits.  Students who enrolled in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and used our bioamplifiers got better grades than their peers who weren’t equipped with the lab kits. More importantly, their self-efficacy was three times higher than that of their counterparts. Both groups followed the same syllabus; both watched videos, took quizzes and virtual simulated labs. The only difference was the chance to do-it-yourself, which yet again turned out to be a source and key to confidence. 

This study has confirmed that remote labs have potential to not only act as a playground in which to tinker and breathe life into theoretical concepts, but also to boost students’ self-confidence and motivation. The labs helped these students realize that they do have a say in science, as well as the means to say it, regardless of their background, experience and expertise. Not to brag, but that’s what we’ve been saying all along!

byb remote labs

These humble lab kits can fit in a box, be sanitized, run on batteries, and travel in backpacks. Available at a fraction of the cost of other physiological recording devices, they still offer all the functionality of big scientific labs with $40,000 worth of equipment. Their design is simple enough not to intimidate school kids. Still, they are powerful enough to find a place even in postdoc research labs, basements, bedrooms or backyards. Science doesn’t discriminate, and neither should its tools.

In fact, these lab kits are the ones that added so much weight to our trophy cabinet. The largest neuroscience society in the world, Society for Neuroscience, has recognized our “outstanding contributions to public outreach and science education”, giving us their Next Generation Award a full decade ago. For our work in promoting citizen science, we got the United States “Champions of Change” award at the White House back in 2013. Together with HarvardX, we developed the largest neuroscience MOOC in the world, “Fundamentals of Neuroscience”, with over 350,000 students enrolled to date. The most recent accolade is the prestigious Tibbetts Award by U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), for “beacons of promise and models of excellence in high technology”. Our work has been featured on TED, Netflix, and CNN, to name just a few.

Our electrophysiology kits have already made it to hundreds of educational institutions across the USA. Manuel Diaz-Rios, Professor of Neuroscience and Biology at Bowdoin College, plans to use them as part of his online teaching strategy. He believes that the greatest challenges of remote teaching are equity, engagement, and accessibility. “Equity comes in the form of, for example, providing equal access to educational equipment/tools and comparable internet service to all students in your class. Engagement involves creating a remote learning experience that is not exhausting, one-dimensional and thus not boring to students. And when talking about accessibility, I mean that you as their instructor must be as accessible to your students as possible taking into consideration special needs among them and different time zones,” Manuel tells us. BYB tools will help him tackle at least two of these problems. They are distributed to all of his students along with internet connectivity tools, and will stimulate student engagement.

Elementary and high school students will also benefit from Remote Labs. Bernadette Barragan, a 12th-grade science teacher at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa (TX), believes that devising engaging activities is one of the greatest challenges for remote educators. Students are already overwhelmed with tech chores that lull them into passivity, so engagement and hands-on experience will be essential in their science classes. That’s exactly where at-home lab kits jump in. “My students are spending a good portion of the day staring at a screen, and having to attend 8 different virtual meetings a day; microphone on mute, mainly watching and listening. Thankfully, they will be able to take home lab equipment that allows them to actively participate and have a valuable hands-on learning experience. As a result, students will make stronger and authentic connections with the lesson,” Bernadette says.

Location of US schools where educators are already using BYB tools.

Control Video Games with your Brain!

As educators, we are always trying to keep up with our students. We understand that technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and the way students entertain themselves in their free time is changing. Video games are an incredibly popular activity among students of all ages. To best engage with students, our aim is to blend their interests with science, to let them flex their gaming skills alongside their budding critical-engineering perspective, and best yet, to make STEM learning just a little bit competitive!

The Game Controller

The BYBGame Controller allows students to capture electrical signals from their muscles, hearts, and eyes, and use these spikes of activity to control video games!

Starting with simple games like Super Mario, Galaga, and Pong, students learn the basics of biofeedback. In medicine and physical therapy, similar systems are used to help people exercise, train motor control, and build strength!

This phenomenon is also an example of assistive technology! Not everyone is physically able to use the standard Mouse & Keyboard / video game controllers which many of us use to interface with our video games and computers. Systems like these allow for differently-abled peopled to plug in and play games using other parts of their body!

Upping the Complexity… What about 3D video games?

Students can continue to explore with the Game Controller and come up with ways to interface with all of their favorite games.

Check out this simple example above of how Will set up World of Warcraft to take input from his eyes and arms.

Program Your Own Game Controller with the Muscle SpikerShield Pro

“But 3 inputs isn’t enough to play my favorite game!”

I hear you. Me too.

Using the Muscle SpikerShield Pro and some simple code, you can take over total keyboard and mouse control.

In this example, I combined the Muscle SpikerShield Pro and Game Controller to have 9-inputs into World of Warcraft.

  1. Start Running
  2. Stop Running
  3. Turn Left
  4. Turn Right
  5. Target Enemy
  6. Change Target
  7. Small Attack
  8. Big Attack
  9. Heart-Beat Display

With just a bit of troubleshooting, I was able to actively play an online, multiplayer game, using only signals from my muscles and heart as inputs!

What about Multiplayer games?

Lastly, also using the Muscle SpikerShield Pro, students can control and compete in multiplayer games!

In real physical therapy, this is an effective way to motivate sedentary or injured people to exercise targetted parts of their bodies! It’s also a lot of fun… I asked Zach and Caitlin to help for just a few minutes, and then they played all the way up to over 100 points!

Get Started with the Game Controller – an Expansion kit for the Muscle SpikerBox Pro

The Game Controller is an expansion product which requires a Muscle SpikerBox Pro and a Desktop or Laptop computer running Windows or MacOS.

Check it out in our store, and put your students on a cutting edge track to come up with the biofeedback devices of the future!


Summer Neuroscience Workshop Empowers Educators to Teach Brain Science!

Recently we hosted a teacher training workshop in San Diego, featuring some of our newest tools and some new pedagogical strategies!

The focus was on the Muscle SpikerBox ProReaction Timer, and Reflex Hammer, which you can see featured in this TEDx Detroit Talk.

We received a lot of great feedback, and as part of our “open-source” nature of our company, we consider it a “Duty to Disclose” some of this feedback! Nothing held back, here is the bad, the good, the ugly, and the good again!


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