Is Education ready for wearable technology?

Every few years technology pushes on into new areas and transforms the possibilities of how we can interact with it. Think back to 2007 before the iPhone came out and made smartphones ubiquitous in students hands; it was unheard of that students could log on to the internet anywhere and at anytime.  I remember being at college and having the joy when I was able to use a Apple Macintosh computer for the first time.  It seems the more we advance the faster we change our way of working.  And even the most highly regarded tech visionaries get it wrong sometime.  Steve Jobs famously said that nobody wanted a larger phone because you couldn’t get your hand around it.  Fast forward to today and some of the biggest selling smartphones such as the iPhone 6S and the Galaxy 7 are large format.

Virtual Reality
A virtual Reality pod of the late 90’s

My first job was working in a shop with a virtual reality game.  The user stood in a pod and wore a massive headset and was able to walk around a room where the graphics were no better then the ones in the video for Money for Nothing.  It was a flash in the pan idea and after a few months those machines were taken out of the shop again.  That was 12 years ago.

Today we have a better experience by using our mobile phones and cardboard glasses that we can take around with us.  Many of us have smartwatches which which allow us to find out what is happening in the world by just raising our wrists.  But with all this technology is it possible to transform learning away from the desktop and onto something a lot more interactive and mobile?  I think that we need to look at it as two classes of category – enhanced reality and and wearable technology.

I use the term enhanced reality as a merge between virtual and augmented.  The latest craze at the moment is Pokemon Go where you can walk and point your camera around the real world and find virtual Pokemon to add to your collection.  This is possibly the biggest mass market hit to date of how using basic technology, your phone’s camera and GPS, and virtual items (Pokemon) can be used to create a new form of entertainment.

Can this idea be used in education though?  Imagine a history field trip to London.  As the students walk through the city they can point their phones at buildings and on their screen they get videos showing what happened at that spot during The Great Fire of London.  Or as they walk past The Houses of Parliament the GPS in their phones recognises where they are and plays speeches by important politicians.  With applications such a Layar for iOS devices, the lecturer can set up important information ahead of time and then let the students hunt for it out in the real word brining the learning alive.  No more reading about it in a text book in the class.

Google_Cardboard_VRMoving on from the days of the static VR pod, lets see how we can use virtual reality in education.  Google Cardboard is a small set of goggles which cost very little to purchase and you place a smartphone within them and it can display specially created videos as 3 dimensional.  The Accelerometer that is within the phone can also tell the orientation of the wearer and allow them to view all around them.  Imagine that in a lesson they wanted to be able to have a virtual tour of an art gallery to look at the paintings and art contained within.  Well, they can do that from their classroom using and app such as Art Gallery VR from Google Play.  Currently the Louvre in Paris has 360 degree walk throughs on their website, but soon you will be able to put on your cardboard and walk through the gallery just as though you were there.  These few examples are a great way to bring a different experience into the classroom.

Another potential transformative example of technology is the smartwatch.  I have one on my wrist for 16 hour a day.  It is collecting data on how much exercise I take and what my pulse is throughout the day.  It provides me details of the latest news around the world. apple-watch-hr Soon you are going to be able to take photos and videos from your wrist.  How then can we use this in education?  This one is a little more tricky.  The obvious example would be in the fields of sport and health.  In your sport lessons, all your students would be able to monitor and share their heart rates and other metrics with each other and the teacher to see how exercise impacts their fitness.  After their activity they could collate all that information back in the classroom to use as data for assignments etc.

Is this kind of technology ready for the mainstream?  In my opinion not yet, but looking forward to the classroom on 2020 I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that instead of a class being sat around desktop computers looking at pictures or images, they will be out in the world pointing their phones at buildings for information and using virtual reality to go to places they couldn’t have imagined ever visiting.  They will be up and about competing with their classmates to fill their exercise rings during the day.  As a technology champion for education, this is a time I am looking forward to.

To finish off, lets remind ourselves what the graphics of 90s virtual reality might have looked like.


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