Is there a place for personal wearable technologies, such as smart watches, Google Glass, Fitbit and Muse (which tracks brain activity) in the classroom?
Yes, but there are concerns too, according to Arlene Borthwick, associate dean of NLU’s National College of Education, and her co-authors. They just learned at the recent International Society for Technology in Education conference that their article, “Personal Wearable Technologies in Education: Value or Villain?” was the most-downloaded article from the Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education so far in 2016.
The article presents a thorough look at both the positives and negatives of using these wearable devices in schools.
On the plus side, wearables present a new way for teachers to engage students. Students could send data to the teacher from a smart watch, for example. Wearables can store audible textbooks, and teachers can dispense digital badges and even unlock the classroom door using them. They can help students learn by presenting information in both visual and auditory formats. Wearable technologies also have great potential for disabled students. Google Glass is developing a way to use sensors in shoes to help blind students navigate while walking.
Augmented reality and virtual reality devices can help students learn, too. Wearing devices such as the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality device, students can see and hear pivotal scenes in history, for example, as if they were there in the moment.
But the authors caution that there are also negatives and unanswered questions that come with wearable technologies. These include privacy concerns about students’ data, including photo, video and real-time location. There are also concerns about radiation emitting from devices which are worn close to a student’s body, concerns that students from poorer families might not be able to afford the devices and concerns that students could use the technology to disrupt the classroom, such as turning off the teacher’s LCD projector and zapping the prepared lesson for the day. Finally, the dependence upon companies that collect students’ data is troublesome because the companies, not the student, parent or school, are ultimately in possession of the data.
Borthwick’s co-authors included Cindy L. Anderson of Roosevelt University, Teresa S. Foulger of Arizona State University and Elizabeth Finsness of Minnesota State University, Mankato.