Wearables Not Yet Classroom Ready

Ken Royal

Ken Royal

When will there be wearables in classrooms? About twenty years ago I was asked to help write a book about computers in our future. My part was to future think and write about what I thought might happen, especially in classrooms. I remember it like yesterday. I’d written about wearables, and was so impressed by the story of a young student, who wore a backpack with a computerized gadget inside that helped him talk for the first time. His first conversation ever was ordering a fast food meal. His wearable was very noticeable, bulky and heavy, but it worked. The other wearables I wrote about were watches, jewelry, and clothing made of digital-conducting threads. The latter was actually being tested at that time by the military, but I was thinking education uses.

I remember writing that some day, students would walk into a library, or school classroom and the technology would recognize the students, and even know why an individual student was there. I sort of tied that into some sort of wearable band or other type of jewelry—bracelet or ring. And, of course, all of it was seamless, ubiquitous, and so much lighter and smaller than that student’s wonderful talking backpack. It’s funny, but I actually share the same idea today, about students walking into a learning space and being recognized by the technology. In many cases that’s still not easy in classrooms today.

Years afterward, the promises of Google Glass for education as a wearable didn’t quite match up to the hype; it still had me excited about wearable potential. I hadn’t thought about glasses as the technology wearables. Wearable digital glasses could still give students control over using technology for doing things technologically creative. That needs to be applauded. Unfortunately Google Glass uses in class remain limited.

Many wearables, today, are bands or resemble wristwatches. Most companies have gone that route. Some are tied to specific hardware or proprietary software, while others make an attempt at standalone. They’re all reliant on docking and charging. When they aren’t docked or charged they become useless. I can’t imagine what that would mean for someone, who couldn’t speak, and who relied on a wearable to do the simplest thing like ordering fast food. I also wouldn’t want to be teaching an interactively equipped classroom of students when the wearables stopped working for lack of a charge. Wearables rely on batteries, and those batteries are tiny. Tiny batteries can only stay charged for short periods of time. I have a golf range-finding watch, and sometimes its face goes blank and gray before the round is over. Maybe wearables will need a giant leap in battery technology to get to a next level.

It’s interesting, too, how many people I’ve met who say, “ I have this wearable digital band and I’ve begun to wonder why I even wear it.” And that may be the thing. Wearables are a curiousity, and not very practical, especially in a classroom. No one has really made any wearable that can really work well there yet. I wanted it to be Google Glass as much as anyone, but it’s not ready for the classroom in an easy, as well as useful education way. It’s cool, but as with anything, cool by itself is nothing more than cool. Not many schools or districts are planning their learning spaces around Google Glass.

For all these reasons, twenty years after I first pondered wearables for education, I’ve begun to imagine again, what they could be, look like, and how they might be used. The instructional technology fan in me wants the next education technology advancement to be wearable and cloud responsive. Let me think… what could that look like?

About the Author:

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.

Ken Royal

Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is an Education storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.
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