Google Glass is one of those technologies where the idea alone is enough to start conversations. For those who grew up on a diet of Star Trek it is an idea from that world brought to life. For pretty much everyone else it is technology that pushes right up against Eric Schmidt's 'creepy line'. Even though the release of Glass to the general public is still some way off it is worth pondering what it might mean for Education and address both the fears and promise of Google's next big idea.
Google Glass was announced last year at Google I/O, their international developers event. At that time attendees were able to join a wait list for Google Glass and become the first to receive this new product. What was amazing at the time is that Glass rapidly sold out despite a price of $1500 US and that at this stage there was no product, just the promise of a new way of interacting with your information and of recording the world around you.
This year in time for I/O Google delivered Glass to the initial group of users and revealed, at least in beta form their vision for wearable computing. The initial response from those who have experienced Glass has been positive, despite it very clearly being an immature product that will require committed developers and time to deliver what was promised. Glass is one of those products that is easily mocked by those who have not experienced it yet rapidly embraced by those who have. Rob Demillo, the Chief Technology Officer for Tekzilla (part of the Revision 3 network purchased recently by Discovery Networks) is one early adopter impressed by the potential of Glass. He describes the experience of having been involved with the program for 12 months as a member of the Explorer Program. To Rob the devices 'notification centric' operating system is a paradigm shift not seen in the tech world since the wide adoption of the desktop metaphor. That it puts your notifications and the information you need front and centre but goes away when not needed is a game changer that takes this beyond the realm of a head mounted camera.
What is important to take away here is that Glass is, truly, a new paradigm for interacting with a computer. Everything from the display to the interface is new, and the immediacy of the system lends itself to a "Notification First" environment, which is a different world from which we currently operate.
For those who have missed the buzz on Glass it a small projector mounted to a spectacle frame so that it can present information to its wearer via one eye. Linked to the users phone and thus to the internet, social networks, emails and GPS the device is very aware of its users personal information. By combining data from all of these sources augmented with live information from its camera and microphones Glass becomes a powerful device for a new augmented reality. Backed by the information processing power of Google, Glass knows more about you and your daily routine than you do. It knows your schedule, your interests, your commute and it combines this with detailed real time data about where you are to deliver meaningful data. Your calendar will tell you when you have a meeting, Glass will let you know when you need to leave given local traffic data, indicate when you are near that speciality store you searched for two days ago and then show you the LinkedIn page for each person at the meeting.
So far much of the attention around Glass has centred on its camera. Initial reports were that this would be an always on device that would capture all that its wearer saw. This is not the case but fears persist that the device will be misused and the world will be flooded with privacy invading images captured in public toilets. It is this type of hysteria that must be overcome for the device to succeed and as a result facial detection has not yet been permitted. It is almost certain that the initial conversations in school will focus on these fears of privacy. Even now few schools are comfortable with smartphones due the camera risk and unrestricted internet.
When Glass becomes publicly available at a price point that is less prohibitive it will undoubtedly begin to appear in schools. Most likely this will begin with students who are early adopters of new technology and whose parents are willing to support the purchase of a new toy. The response is likely to be a swift ban but overtime will this change. There is real potential in such a device but unlike other disruptive technologies the use case is not as immediately apparent. Glass is not the re-imagining of an existing product into a new form factor, a laptop with a virtual keyboard as in a tablet. Schools will need to evaluate the potential of a notification based operating system that prompts students with relevant information as and when they require it.
Sugata Mitra in an article for the Guardian questioned our romantic attachment to previous models for learning. He questions a school model that locks students away from the Internet and sets strict conditions for assessments yet has the goal of preparing students for adult life where they will be expected to make use of every option available for exploration and collaboration. We know our students will enter an increasingly connected world but continue to teach them in ways that are perfectly suited to the early 19th Century. The potential of Glass is that it becomes the mechanism that provides its wearer with the information they need, when they need it. In a school system that values deep thinking, analysis and evaluation of knowledge over the restatement of facts, this ease of access to data should be seen as an advantage. Glass has the potential to free the student's minds from the recall of information and allow them to have it popped into view as they require it. Visual search in art lessons, notes linked to a video, easy access to search results via speech commands, new options for collaboration and the many uses yet to be thought of. For Glass these are such early days that it is likely to be our students who will be the ones to invent the use cases for such a device.
Once we move beyond Glass as a device the students bring to class with them and think of its potential as a device worn by teachers the options change. Imagine a class with a teacher and students wearing Glass. A class in which every member is able to access and share information, record photos and video from their point of view and review what has been recorded. In some respects the idea might be frightening and one that raises many new questions, how do we control access?, how do we prevent sharing of these videos?, how will we prevent cyber-bullying?, how do we ensure equity of access to a new and expensive technology? All are significant and valid questions and yet the prospect of a classroom of Glass empowered learners is worth pondering.
What might this Glass enabled class look like? What might Glass enable and how may it enhance the learning of the students? Many ideas come forward when you ponder these questions. A students struggling with a Maths problem replays the steps they have taken and recorded. A teacher records a lesson from their perspective and edits this together with views from the student's perspective as a tool for revision and reflection. Teachers view online a colleague's lesson and offer suggestions in real time that appear in the teachers eye-line. A specialist or behavioural expert observes a child for signs of a learning disability as they work in their classroom with their teacher. Students on an excursion or field trip capture images and videos of what they see, share notes with classmates and have access to information from the internet to augment their experience. Students working in a group record their interactions for review after the lesson, to identify how they worked together and to ensure the ideas of all members are considered. While watching a video students back channel ideas and perspective with students across the globe, while the teachers are able to pose questions without the need to pause the film. A teacher shares a positive moment recorded from their class with an anxious parent or presents a clearer picture of a child's behaviour.
This video shows how Andrew Vanden Heuvel used Glass to inspire Physics students
It will be most interesting to see how people respond to Glass and other wearable technologies. The response of the wider community will play an important role in how these ideas are accepted in areas such as education but as educators we should consider honestly and openly the potential or not that is presented. If a new tool offers genuine advantages to our students then we should give it due thought. If it is a tool that our students will be expected to master then it deserves our time too. If it is just a new shiny toy then it is perhaps best left for playtime. Where Glass fits in this scale is far from decided at this point.
By Nigel Coutts