Last month Google made its wearable Glass product available to the general public for the first time. While you no longer need to be an invited Google Glass Explorer to play around with the pioneering (albeit unfashionable) platform, you still need $1,500 to get one shipped to you from the Google Play Store.
It’s unclear whether this high profile focus on wearable computing will come anywhere close to matching the success of Google’s Android operating system. Many, including famed tech commentator Robert Scoble, believe that Glass is not ready for prime time and will ultimately sink like Google’s once trendy Wave messaging platform.
Regardless of whether Google Glass will succeed, wearable technology – sooner rather than later – will profoundly impact learning. We are seeing how iPads, Android tablets, and Chromebooks are “flipping” traditional educational models by allowing students to view classroom lectures at home and reserving classroom time for personalized instruction. Apps created for these platforms can also assess real-time progress by individual and groups of students in ways that were never possible before.
We shouldn’t forget that the technology that enables flipped learning and real-time personalization barely existed just five years ago. Things change fast. Understanding the potential ahead, app developers are reimagining how they can reach students, teachers and schools on devices that will literally be connected to us.
Until the Apple Watch comes out early next year, Google Glass will be the highest profile wearable computing device that doesn’t count your steps or monitor your heartbeat. While the Google Glass app ecosystem is still in its embryonic stage (there are less than 100 apps developed specifically for use on Google Glass), is does offer some breadcrumbs in terms of how wearable technology will impact education.
Here are five areas where we can already see wearable technology’s current and potential impact on education.
Personalized learning instruction and assessment
Assessment apps like Socrative – available for the iPad, Android tablets, and Chromebooks – allow teachers to see real-time analytics that show how well a student or groups of students are responding to any particular lesson at any particular time. The one thing any of these screen-based apps cannot do is simultaneously interpret student body language, which is an equally important signal to comprehension. Imagine a version of Socrative built on top of a Google Now framework, however, where a teacher can view quantitative comprehension data while also being able to look at any of their students in the eye.
Field trips and Career Training
Photo credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani (Flickr)
The first-person broadcast capabilities of Google Glass, where users can record and/or transmit in real-time what they are hearing and seeing, will allow teachers to record and share virtual field trips like never before. From a narrated tour of an art or science museum, to showing elementary students a day in the life of a firefighter, to giving physics students lessons from a particle collider (buggy, but A for effort!), Glass will provide context to worlds outside the classroom. This understanding was previously unfathomable.
It’s not that Glass and other wearable devices will teach students to be any more productive. The aim in this early stage is to create a vocabulary of gestures that allow users to harness everything they are tracking with the technology. From sharing a real-time video with the wink of an eye, to storing an audio file in Google Drive with a slight tilt of the head, users, developers and media companies are tinkering with the next generation of taps, zooms and two finger scrolls. Not surprisingly, Evernote is already staking a claim by investing considerably in this new platform. Expect others to dive in soon.
When Google acquired the game-changing technology of language translation app Word Lens, it had plans for applications not just confined to a touch screen. Through augmented reality, Word Lens quickly scans words in one language and translates them to another. It doesn’t take too much imagination to predict how this – and associated technologies that do the same for audio (see below) – will impact multilingual communication in the near-term. Popular language-learning app Duolingo also has an official presence on Google Glass.
Serving students with audio and visual disabilities
Developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Captioning to Glass app converts audio spoken into a smartphone to captioning that will be visible to anyone wearing the device. Currently, the app is used to help anyone with a hearing disability refer back to words that were spoken and not picked up by reading lips or facial gestures. Conversely, the speaker has the chance to edit out “uhs”, “ums” and other verbal tics. The same team is also working on a Translation to Glass product, that will aim to replicate the functionality of Word Lens for audio translation.