Controlling machines with our minds: what does it mean for accessibility and education?

“It’s going to blow your minds,” said Elon Musk in September last year when he unveiled Neuralink, his brain-computer interface project. It involves a digital device implanted into the brain that can interpret the electrical signals made by neurons, gather data and pass them on to an external computer. He’s described it as a “Fitbit in your skull”. 

It’s just one of many such projects, as this Wired article sets out. It highlights NextMind, a small and noninvasive neural interface that’s worn on your head and translates brain waves into data that can be used to control compatible software, and a device from CTRL-Labs that uses the motor cortex. 

All very sci-fi but what’s it got to do with education? 

Quite a lot, according to John Galloway, a specialist in the use of technology to improve educational opportunities for children and young people with special educational needs. For people with physical disabilities, if the distance between our minds and our machines is shrinking, then the opportunities available through the use of technology are amplified. 

He notes that when we first started using personal computers our interaction was determined by a keyboard and a mouse. So our capacity with them was determined by our dexterity with a keyboard and a mouse. More recently we’ve become quite used to operating touch screens. So the variety of operational commands has increased, we can now tap and swipe. We don’t need the same kind of control as we might do with a keyboard. 

“There have always been alternatives to keyboard and mouse use around, for instance switches, big buttons that you tap,” says John.  “Typically a light will scan across the screen and when it comes to the point on the screen you want to activate, say a letter on a keyboard, you hit the button. Stephen Hawking was a switch user. He used, for a while, a system known as ‘sip and puff.’ Basically, he sucked and he blew and that made a light scan his keyboard then he selected what he wanted. And that’s how he wrote many of his books and delivered his lectures.” 

From voice control to mind control

Using mouths to mouths to operate machines is now commonplace, albeit in a slightly different way. We talk to our devices, we offer them commands, we tell them to remember things for us, we ask them questions, we tell them to connect us to a friend on the phone. And so the distance between the computer and what we are thinking about is now between our mouths and our brains. 

John points out that, even more recently we’ve developed technologies where we control the device with our eyes. We look on the screen and when we find the area we want to activate we blink. Possibly the smallest motion the human body can make. In fact, we don’t even have to blink, we can just look and keep your gaze in one place and hover on that spot and the computer understands that that’s what you want to activate and ‘click,’ it does it for you. So now the distance is down to between the eyes and the mind. 

And so, we come to the notion of mind control, with brain implants: literally we think, and our technology does what we are thinking about. It is making our thoughts tangible. 

Shrinking the distance

“So the way in which technology – the way in which our ingenuity with technology – is shrinking that distance no longer means that technology is, literally, at arm’s length, now we can work from inside our own heads,” John concludes. “Many of those disabilities disappear. And the opportunities that our devices offer us are available to them in a way that they haven’t been previously.”

Watch the video (3m:47s): Inclusion and accessibility – How technology supports learners with physical disabilities with John Galloway

Watch John Galloway’s other videos on inclusion and accessibility (all with captions and transcripts)


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Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
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Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
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 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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