The recent announcement that Virgin Atlantic are to begin trialling Google’s Glasses prompted thoughts about how the technology could be used in education.

Google Glass is a form of wearable technology. Wearable technology refers to devices that can be worn by individuals in the form of an accessory (jewellery, sunglasses, watches) or even an actual piece of clothing. Google’s Glass technology is a small device which resembles a pair of glasses, but with a single lens. It enables users to see information about their surroundings displayed in front of them, as well as take pictures, record videos, get directions displayed, speak to send a message or translate your voice. The video below describes the technology in more detail:

In Virgin Atlantic’s case, they’re using the devices in their Upper Class Wing to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination, as well as to translate any foreign language information. In the future, the technology could also tell airline staff their passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences.

Whilst wearable technology is still relatively new (and somewhat expensive) there is definitely scope for using it within education. It appeared for the first time in last year’s NMC Horizon Report as an emerging technology in education, albeit with a time-to-adoption of ‘four to five years’, signifying that it may well be some time before we see wearable devices become ubiquitous in this sector.

Australia-based online learning service Open Colleges created this infographic detailing how Google Glass could be used to help facilitate learning in the future and create a more interactive classroom experience for everyone. Some of the ideas include:

  • using the augmented reality feature on excursions to instantly display facts or figures about relevant buildings/landmarks
  • capture science in everyday life via photos, videos, audio and images and share them with the rest of the class (or access them later via email, online apps etc)
  • provide accessibility for students and teachers with visual, auditory and physical disabilities
  • transfer videos and images to students’ tablets/devices for analysis
  • translate resources in foreign languages
  • alert students working in scientific labs to hazards
  • enhance productivity by enabling users to automatically send information via text, email and social networks based on voice commands, gestures or other indicators

Other forms of wearable technology currently on the market include ThinkGeek’s InPulse Smart Notification watch and Muse – a new brain-sensing headband which displays a user’s brain activity on their smartphone or tablet.

Technology companies are also developing wearable flexible displays. These are LED (light emitting diode) displays which can wrap around furniture and other curved surfaces (a person’s arms, for instance). Such devices could potentially, in time, make smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices obsolete.

Although wearable technology is not yet pervasive in the education sector, several universities are currently researching this area. At Georgia Tech University, for example, the Contextual Computing Group are working on projects to develop a mobile sign language translator, a wearable pendant that recognises and translates one’s hand gestures into actions, and an application designed to make a tablet device pressure-sensitive so it monitors tremor in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Meanwhile, a team from the Centre for Sensor Web Technologies at Dublin City University is building a wearable sensor that detects hazardous gases and will immediately alert the user of these conditions.

Most of the developments, however, are transpiring in the consumer space. “As technologies are continuously designed to be smaller and more mobile, wearable devices are a natural progression in the evolution of technology”. Consequently, one could suggest that wearable devices will eventually emerge in the classroom environment as they gain traction in the consumer market, just as mobile devices such as tablets have done in recent years.

Wearable Technology
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