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Great Teachers Really Do Get Students on the Same Wavelength

The phrase “being on the same wavelength” has long been used to indicate shared understanding. A new study appears to prove the colloquialism true by showing that when students’ brainwaves sync up, they report greater satisfaction with classmates and instructors.

In an admittedly unconventional experiment, researchers from New York University and the University of Florida strapped portable electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to the heads of 12 New York High School students in order to study their brain activity during biology classes. The experimental environment was unique compared to typical EEG studies, which generally occur in controlled laboratory settings. But researchers note that was exactly the point: Conducting the study in a classroom was meant to uncover how broad social interactions affect brainwave synchrony, and whether that synchrony could predict self-reports of satisfaction with those interactions.

Upon looking at their results, researchers found when a student gave the course a good rating there was a correlation to that student having experienced brain wave synchrony with classmates. And the more in-synch the student was with classmates brain waves, the more likely it was that the student would give the teacher high marks for their teaching style.

Additionally, researchers looked at whether or not student self-reports of positive one-on-one relationships with other students affected their brain’s ability to sync up. They discovered that brainwave synching during class between students who liked each other only occurred when those students spent time face-to-face prior to a class activity. This would seem to indicate that pre-class locker chats could actually boost the synchrony during the shared classroom experience.

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, was only possible due to the decreased size and increased portability of technology that monitors the brain. And there has been a recent wave of wearable app-connected consumer products marketed to help individuals monitor their brain activity in order to focus or de-stress.

If the classroom experiment is any indication, it’s possible that these products could become an educational tool. Teachers in the future might have the ability to monitor their performance in real time via student EEG, meaning that instead of asking if everyone is on the same wavelength, they can simply look at a monitor and see for themselves.