While many classrooms and workplaces are yet to tap the full potential of tablets and smartphones in come the wearables. And with so many opportunities left to explore from the palm of your hand, what will businesses and learning institutions have to gain by investing in the wearables wave?
In a series of posts we’ll be looking at the impact wearables have had so far on various learning situations and whether this new trend is really shaping up to be more than just a high-tech fashion statement.
By Annika Burgess
As Google Glass has only recently become available to the public in a few selected countries and smartwatch technology is yet to find solid grounding outside the sport and wellbeing sector, the real disruption wearables will have on learning may not be evident until, say… 2015. There are however already a number of examples that can be taken to recognise wearables’ learning potential.
The American market in particular has been able to explore the possibilities of Google Glass more so than the rest of the world. Google Explorers in the US have (for a cool US$1,500) been able to sport the beta headwear since early 2013, which is plenty of time for tech enthusiasts to try, test and tire of the product just in time for the next round of developments.
Adam Winkle, a K-5 science teacher at Mike Davis Elementary School, Florida, has been part of the Google Glass Explorer Program for the past year. He has made it his mission to take an in-depth look into how the technology could possibly reform education by bringing his Glass to class. The positive results are already being seen.
Instead of accepting prize money for his recent Golden Apple Award for teaching excellence Winkle asked for the money to be spent on resources to conduct assessments on his senior class.
“For the past two years I have had Florida Gulf Coast University and some other universities come into the classroom, develop assessments and then assess my students on their comprehension and science,” Winkle says, adding that the assessments were conducted on 4th and 5th graders over a two-year period to have a good control group and baseline.
“We got our results back in early July, and our students on average improved around 36% in comprehension alone. The only thing I did differently was using Glass in the classroom and allowing the students to provide live feedback via applications such as EduTeach and EduStream.”
In the Florida state assessments the school’s science scores also significantly improved, going from 28% below the district average to 8% above the year following the introduction of the new technologies.
So, what can Glass offer that tablets can’t?
“Tablets are always going to be there but Glass is an enhancement to the class. It takes engagement to the next level,” Winkle says.
He explains that wearables seem to be most effective for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities. As these subjects involve a lot of problem solving and experiments, wearables such as Glass (he uses both Google and Epson) allow students to record the steps they take to solve a problem – hands free – and then instantly upload those video tutorials to YouTube to help guide other students. He says: “All students had a better understanding and description of the topic I was trying to communicate during that class.”
For younger students, reading about a topic such as how a cloud is formed can be accompanied by engaging visuals. A student can put on the glasses and ask ‘what is rain?’ then see the clouds forming and witness how the process works right in front their eyes.
While for students Winkle uses Glass for visual enhancement and to build a database of references, for him, as the teacher, wearables have led to more efficient use of class time. For example, while giving a slide presentation “from anywhere in the classroom without needing to be plugged in to anything,” students are asked a multiple choice essential question – a question that checks for understanding. He is fed the results in real time on Glass – that students placed into an app on their device (tablet or computer) – and instantly sees whether students have grasped the concept.
“I can assess a student instantly rather than having to collect answers, check their work, make sure they’re understanding and then come back to the class, so I’m better managing my time,” Winkle says.
Winkle has also launched the platform EduGlasses– a community of teachers and administrators sharing experiences and queries about using wearables in the classroom. On EduGlasses there is an example from teacher Courtney Pepe. She asks her chosen ‘Google Glass student of the day’ to ask Glass a questions such as ‘what is the difference between speed and velocity?’ Pepe says the benefits of using Glass over an iPad for this sort of exercise is that Glass returns results in short forms of micro information which can be easily absorbed by students. She also says workflow becomes more efficient using Glass; for example, you can ask Glass to ‘take a note’ and you can then speak your newly-acquired information directly into Evernote.
Smartwatches are also making their way into classrooms across the US; this has been largely possible through the Pebble Education Project which has seen 4,000 smartwatches donated to students of engineering and computer science. The reason for Pebble’s education push has been to bring their smartwatches to the hands of studentsnamely from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Virginia Tech University, amongst others, and is leaving it to them – the next top-tier of developers – to harness the wrist-worn power.
The results are yet to be seen and, in general, smartwatches are failing to create the same sort of hype as other wearable technologies. Most of the talk surrounding smartwatches in education is that they offer a smarter way for students to cheat.