SpellCheck: A Spelling Practice Device; Special Considerations for the Mass Adoption of Brain-Computer Interfaces

Nguyen, Catlinh, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Jacques, Richard, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Calhoun, Benton, EN-Elec/Computer Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Elliott, Travis, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

While my STS research and technical research are not directly related, both topics draw on the concept of using technology to aid human learning. My STS research focused on the success and adoption of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology, as well as the major societal and ethical concerns that arise with the emergence of BCI’s. My technical capstone research involves designing, implementing, and testing a tool to help elementary school students learn and spell words by prompting the student to spell a given image using physical letter blocks and verifying the input.

Project Summaries
My STS research paper investigated the special considerations that must be taken before the success and mass adoption of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology through the lens of the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) framework. In this paper, I not only highlighted the benefits of BCI development, but also discussed several major stakeholders that have the greatest impact on BCI adoption as well as major concerns to be addressed before mass adoption. Furthermore, I discussed the unresolved ethical concerns with regards to privacy, informed consent, and society. I conclude by suggesting that BCI’s may have an opportunity for use in workplace and industrial applications, especially within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing trend of workers quitting their jobs. My research outlines the concerns and opportunities for growth that must be addressed as BCI’s rise to prevalence for consumers.
The goal of my technical project was to develop an educational device which facilitates learning in youth ages 5 to 7. Specifically, this educational tool helps children practice how to spell the name of an object that appears on a screen. Compared to other spelling aids, this device is unique because it utilizes physical letter blocks as opposed to fully virtual letters, in order to improve fine motor skills in children. This device displays an image of an object, prompts the user to place letter blocks into their respective slots into the device to spell the word, and verifies the user’s guess. The screen then alerts the user whether or not they spelled the object name correctly. To develop this device, my team had to design an electrical schematic, manufacture a printed circuit board, design and 3D print the letter blocks, and develop software to manage the system. The end goal of our project was to develop a functional prototype that could be used by students in a classroom environment.

As I worked on both my STS and technical research projects, I found that the insights learned from one project could aid my understanding of the other project. For example, a significant part of my STS project involved researching the safety concerns of implanting and operating BCI’s. After understanding the importance of safety in engineering, I became more aware of taking special precautions to ensure safety when users interact with my device. Likewise, taking ownership of a technical project from ideation to production helped me to understand the power that scientists and engineers have in making design decisions. Engineers are often faced with ethical decisions in their design of new technologies that deeply impact the user. This understanding helped me analyze the perspective of scientists and engineers who develop BCI’s for my STS thesis. In developing both projects simultaneously, I have gained perspectives that improved the impact and quality of both theses.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge my STS professors, Professor Richard Jacques and Professor Travis Elliott, my capstone advisors, Professor Harry Powell and Professor Todd Delong, and my capstone teammates, Noah Beamon, Justin Guo, Rachel Lew, and Shymbolat Tnaliyev.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Brain-Computer Interfaces, Social Construction of Technology, Educational Technology, Spelling

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell, Benton Calhoun
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques, Travis Elliott
Technical Team Members: Noah Beamon, Justin Guo, Rachel Lew, Shymbolat Tnaliyev

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