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Wearable tech expands new horizons in schools

Wearable technology may be mainstream in schools within four to five year
Inexpensive Google Cardboard glasses work with a smart phone to take students on immersive virtual field trips.
Inexpensive Google Cardboard glasses work with a smart phone to take students on immersive virtual field trips.

Students can explore the Great Wall of China and the surface of Mars using wearable technology products that are dropping in price and becoming more education-focused.

Wearable technology—defined simply as anything electronic and worn on one’s body—will be mainstream in schools within four to five years, predicts the 2015 New Media Consortium Horizon Report.

Products such as FitBit and Jawbone track health and fitness, while the Apple Watch holds translation and dictionary apps. MUV Interactive’s Bird projector turns any surface into a touchscreen for devices. And Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR immerse students in virtual reality scenes that teachers can connect to classroom materials.

For example, Google Cardboard is a pair of cardboard glasses into which one inserts a smart phone. Downloadable apps allow students to view musical performances and to take virtual field trips around the world and into space.

Each set of glasses costs about $16. Thousands of schools in the United States, Australia, Brazil and the United Kingdom are piloting Google Cardboard’s virtual field trip software called Expeditions this year, says Google spokesperson Emma Ogiemwanye.

This type of technology can be integrated into any subject area, says Shelly Terrell, an education consultant and e-learning specialist.

“Sometimes students can’t get into literature because they aren’t used to the context—they may not have traveled outside their own area,” she says. “Having something that can take you anywhere in the world allows you to dive in and feel what it is like to be there.”

One Google Cardboard video enables students to see through the eyes of a Syrian child walking through a refugee camp. “It gets students to care about things around the world, and to want to problem-solve—it creates an emotional tie to learning that is really important,” Terrell says.

Wearable tech can also help with classroom management, by allowing students who tend to act up or get restless a chance to move around more purposefully, she adds. For instance, a class reading Romeo and Juliet can take a break to virtually walk through the streets of Verona.

Getting started

District tech leaders can start by searching Twitter to see what other users have to say about these products. Start with a hashtag, such as #GoogleGlass, to find blogs, lessons and resources from other schools, Terrell says.

Teachers need PD before they can integrate virtual reality, fitness and other programs into lessons. If no funding is available, district tech leaders can ask a group of teacher leaders to collect training and curriculum resources, Terrell says.

Many teachers share lesson plans and learning tools for free online. Teacher leaders can create a website to share those resources within their school, Terrell adds.

The field of wearable tech continues to grow, with some virtual reality companies developing programs in which students can not only see but also touch and move objects, and even smell different odors in the environment, says Robbie Melton, associate vice chancellor of mobilization and emerging technology at the Tennessee Board of Regents.

“It’s only going to get better,” Melton says. “This is game-changing technology that’s going to make a major impact on how we teach and learn.”

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