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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Making your work 21st Century

Can you remember over the last decade how many times you have heard people proclaim that the office will be paper free?  And how many times have you ever seen an office which was truly said to be paper free?  I’m guessing that the first proclamation, you’ve heard a million times and the second you’ve never actually seen.  Looking around, there are still filling cabinets in many offices, desks scattered with papers and notepads and printers everywhere you look.  Despite what tech leaders say, actually writing stuff down is a lot quicker and easier in that moment than getting our tablets out and typing away.

But should this mean that the old ways are always the best?  As I’m sat here at my desk, I’m looking out across the room and there are 4 other people all sat at pretty similar desks staring at a screen clicking away on keyboards.  There is the odd chat but most of the time we are just getting on with our work.  This is how the 20th Century office was.  A room filled with desks where people came in the morning, sat down for 8 hours and then went home at the end of the day.  There is no recognition that people are more productive when the working day works for them.  Sure, we have flexitime where we can come in early or stay late, but the convention is that we still come and sit in a room and do our work. In some cases this is simply the way it has to be; people need to work in a secure area or have to be physically near to other people to do their jobs,  but in many offices up and down the country there could be a better way.

Getting back to the paperless office, what generally happens after a meeting is the papers get filed away and forgotten about until they are needed and then there is a rush to try and find what we’ve done with them.  Lets take this into the 21st Century.  In this idea, we get back to the office and use our device to photograph the papers, documents etc that we created and store them online using something like Evernote.  Now, when we need to find that agenda item, we can search online for exactly what we need.  No rushing around, no having to go to the filing cabinet digging through reams of paper.  Just get online and your whole filing cabinet is there on your tablet.

Lets now look again at the office and try and see how we can bring that into the 21st Century.  Firstly, why do we all need to be sat in the same room all the time?  In the team I lead, we all use cloud storage and instant message/video calling anyway.  It is only convention and rules that mean we have to be in this room together.  Not everyone works to their fullest potential when told how and where they need to be.  The advent of constant fast wifi now means that I can be just as productive drinking a coffee in Starbucks as I am here in the office.  So why is this not being embraced more by senior management?  I think it comes down to 2 things.  Firstly some management have a lack of trust in staff to actually do work when they aren’t watching them or want to show up and see what they are up to.  This is in the most part something which should be put to bed.  Most people if they are in a job which allows them to work how they want will be just as productive if not more so because they are seen as valued and trusted to get on with their job.  It is moving away from a time based work day to an productivity led work day.  Is it better for a worker to do half as much work sat in an office all day, or twice as much work where they are comfortable and at ease?  The Second reason and the one which is the most annoying one is

Well this is the way that its always been

This is ridiculous.  If people thought like this we would never evolve and move forward with anything.

So how do we achieve this?  Management need to let go and listen to staff more and give them responsibility for their own jobs.  Pride should keep staff wanting to work well and because it is productivity that is being measured and not time then it is a win-win situation.  Management could get higher output and staff are happier being able to work how they want. Technology has a large role to play in this.  As I said earlier, our team use Instant Messaging and also make use of applications such as Google Hangouts for online chats.  We keep an eye on projects and what we are working on using Trello which is an online task manager.  We can all add things onto it and measure how we are working.  We schedule in a face to face team meeting once every 2 weeks where we can all be in the same place and discuss anything we need to then.  Our team is capable of working anywhere we want to.  Lets try and make that happen.  Technology is the driving force behind this and we need to understand that bringing more technology into the working day is not just tech for tech’s sake.  It makes a real difference.  It allows us to move on from the old ways and create new paradigms of what a work day should be.

I’d be interested to know about other teams and companies how you could make your work 21st Century.

My Mobile Learning

About 18 months ago, there was an internet buzz going around IT professionals “Whats on your Dock” This is where people all took screenshots of what was on their, mainly macbook, computer toolbars.  This was so that people could see what the professionals used and also to get a feel of what applications were popular.  Well today, i’d like to ask the question

What learning Apps are on your smartphone

This is my iPhone Education Apps Screen
my iPhone education app screen

So that is my iPhone.  Most of these apps I use on occasion, but some of them are always open on my phone.  Here is what I use and why.

Twitter 
This is my go to social app.  Its amazing how much I turn to twitter to ask questions and find out things.  It used to be that I would go on sites like stack exchange or Quora to ask questions, but twitter is my new answer engine.

Edpuzzle
They say that a picture can tell a thousand words.  Well what is better than a photo? Of course it is video.  We make use here of video and EdPuzzle and it takes it to the next level by being able to add questions at certain points to your and  assess what you students are learning throughout.  The app makes it so much easier to watch videos on the move.

Aurasma
With Aurasma you can create hotspots in the real world which when you point your phone’s camera at them can launch anything on the internet.  Think QR codes without having to look for the square.  This can be used almost as a treasure hunt or for inquisitive students looking for ‘hidden’ content.

Post-it Plus
This is a great note snapping app if you use sticky notes.  Just point your camera at your note or notes and when you tap, it takes a photo and can take the notes out of the photo to store on a board which you can then send to a number of apps.

Periscope
What vine is to twitter, periscope is to youtube.  With periscope you can live stream video from your mobile’s camera to the internet and anyone can view it and comment in real time.  I have see some great short bits of learning content done through periscope.  Its really easy to use and feedback from users in real time is great.

Tawk.to
This is a great app for creating a live ‘helpdesk’ type of service.  You know when you go to your energy website and need to talk to a customer service rep online?  Well this is what you can do with Tawk.to  We use it here for live online access to study assistants in the Learning Resource Centres.

Padlet
This is the perfect replacement for sticky notes in lessons.  You can have a virtual sticky board and your students can all post their ‘notes’ to a single board.  The app makes it really easy for people to post comments and look at boards.

Moodle Mobile
Self explanatory really.  Our VLE at the college is Moodle and the Moodle Mobile app has a number of great features.  You can view many of the resources which teachers add to the courses.  All a students assignments or forum posts are pointed out and you can have notifications on the app.  Its still a little rough and there are things you can’t do, but its getting better all the time.

Office 365
It doesn’t matter what people say, Microsoft Office is still for better or worse the standard in office productivity applications and here at work we use it so i sometimes make use of the mobile applications. Although they don’t get the same use as most of my other apps on my phone.

Adobe CC
As a content creator, this is probably one of the most important set of apps I have on my phone.  I am a big user of Photoshop and Premiere Pro (Video editing software).  What the apps let me do is to take some of this work and use my mobile to capture content, create and alter assets and basically make my workflow more mobile.

Google Suite
These are my main apps I use for office productivity.  Google Chrome is my browser of choice on my phone and because i use Chrome on my mac, all my settings are synced between my phone and laptop.  In my work I use Google Drive as my cloud storage so with the app I can access all my work anywhere I have my phone.  I would be lost without many of the apps in this box.

Things
As I’ve got older I’ve realised that I am no longer capable of remembering 1001 things I need to get done so Things is my GTD app of choice.  It syncs easily with my laptop and phone and can give me notifications of outstanding work and deadlines.  Really, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done on time if I didn’t use this.

So what is on your phone and are there any apps which i’m really missing out on?  I’d be interested to know if there are any apps which you couldn’t live without.