Google Glass — “Nauseous, unsteady, naked”*

glass mice

Of course anytime we see a novel technology enter the consumer market we also see nerd-minded educators (like myself) and business-minded observers (not usually me) begin asking how the Latest New Shiny will revolutionize education. Google Glass, wearable computer with a brand new acronym (OHMD) is one of those.

Actually, I don’t know if Google Glass is one of those. 

“New shiny” suggests a sexy device that everyone desires, even if secretly; so far, Google Glass is a device that most people just resent – little else.

In just a few months the idea of using Google Glass for education has generated a good amount of buzz and some thoughtful thinking. I don’t see anyone leveraging Glass to implement difficult instructional theories, but we’ll give that a pass since they’re just getting started.

Most educators talking about Google Glass aren’t looking to it as a means of providing real-time monitoring of student behavior or analytics (an application that carries as much anxiety as potential). They speak primarily of its function as little more than a convenient video camera (the other potential benefits are common in most connected technology). As we’ve seen with other technologies that approach the invisible, the best thing technology can do for education is enhance teaching or learning while staying out of the way, so I’ll definitely give wearable cameras that.

On that note, my list of interesting possibilities for Google Glass (adapted from everyone else’s) is relatively shallow:

  1. First-person video for…
    • Teacher demonstrations
    • Student demonstrations, including teacher training

    When you want to see process, not just product you need video. Unobtrusive video. Any web cam, tablet, or modern phone can give you that, but wearable video adds the first-person point-of-view, which can give additional detail and perspective. When tasks require physical action or manipulation of objects, you need hands-free. OHMD seem ideal for that.

  2. Eyetracking for literacy development

    I’ll own this one: I’d like to have a screen in front of my eyes to project words a la RSVP. But for students developing reading skills eyetracking technology could provide feedback to teachers using algorithms that infer speed and even attention. Software could then adjust reading content to student’s optimal level.

  3. Augmented reality, especially in labs or field trips

    In essence, I look at something and useful multimedia is triggered. Someone do this right so I can be convinced, plz.

  4. Facial recognition:

    • For attendance-taking (yawn)
    • To trigger the display of real-time learning analytics (eek)

So there are some decent ideas. I don’t see one that outweighs the serious concerns I have about wearable technology like Google Glass, especially when it is imposed on students and teachers. It puts student privacy at risk, and tempts policy-makers to invest in bio-monitoring rather than outcomes as a means of inferring learning. Indeed, I was going to start by excusing this post as “obligatory” but I actually believe it is obligatory to discuss ed tech that may have as many — or more — cons to pros.

The biggest obstacle proponents of Glass will face is the years it will take for this wearable makes its way into the mainstream consumer culture, let alone classroom. Tablets are taking years, even decades depending on who you ask.

But maybe a shift in marketing will change the pace of adoption. Indeed, the latest version of the Google Glass “About” page markets it as a product “for those who move”, suggesting that Glass’s real purpose is to augment reality for active humans engaging with the physical world.

Spandex + Google Glass; the ultimate fashion statement.

Spandex + Google Glass; the ultimate fashion statement.

In context of education this positions Glass as Phys Ed gear or assistive technology for trades. I like that a lot better than “glassrooms”.

* The quote comes from an article on Steve Mann, a wearable computing and OHMD pioneer, describing how he feels when he takes his wearable EyeTap technology off. It does not describe the author.