Martin McKay

Wearables, Mobile Devices and a New Look for Education

This post comes to us from our CTO Martin McKay. He’s also our Chief Gadget Geek, so we’re happy he took the time to share his thoughts on how some of these gadgets can play a part in education. Thanks Martin!

I was interviewed recently, and was asked for my thoughts about game changers in Educational Technology. I got a little excited about wearables, and lots of people have been asking me to expand on the subject.

I want to preface this with a few key points:

  • Not all kids come from homes that can afford wearable technology or smartphones.

  • Not all schools have the budget and wifi infrastructure to really put wearables to work in education.

  • I am not talking about Google Glass – 3 hours of battery life and a sometimes frustrating voice input makes it difficult for the classroom.

I do think there are some cool opportunities for wearables and mobile devices in the classroom, and some of it could be truly inexpensive. Some of it is re-using what many students already have in a new way.

If you want to see how low-cost wearable technology for kids can be introduced at scale, look at what Disney have done with the MagicBand. It costs $13, and it unlocks your hotel room door, tells the food servers where you are sitting, helps you know where you are when you are lost, acts as a payment tool and helps with countless other personal interactions. Why not do this in education?

Imagine how a low-cost wristband could help school administration and teachers with:

  • Tracking student attendance – This would be good for students checking into and out of school, and for those irksome fire drills.

  • Providing ID when borrowing library books.

  • Providing payment for school meals.

  • Keeping track of kids on school trips – The band could notify a teacher when a student is more than 20m away.

  • Monitoring classroom responses – The band could be used as a classroom response clicker.

Enough of low-cost technology that is good for administrators though – now let’s think about what can be done with the tech already in kids’ pockets. Smartphones are just incredible devices. They have a camera, microphone, video recorder, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, pedometer, and GPS. And that is all before we start delivering content to kids. I don’t believe a phone can be a primary learning device, but I do believe that students can use them in very cool ways to learn about the world. It’s amazing to think how many science experiments could be enhanced with the use of a smartphone. Here are a few other ideas for using smartphones in the classroom:

  • Journalism projects where students use the camera and audio recorder

  • Datalogging science projects

  • Step counters for PE or Science projects

  • Classroom response systems

  • Language-learning exercises where students record and compare audio samples

And for those concerned about the size of a smartphone screen, last month Google announced Google Cardboard. This inexpensive piece of tech can turn that small screen into an immersive, cinema-sized Virtual Reality environment that uses screen and speakers to take kids on virtual field trips to the Andes, or the Louvre, or the small intestine. Students today can get immersed in content from the molecular scale to the cosmic scale by taking their phones out of their pockets, putting them in a cardboard box and looking into it.

Kids – put down your pencils and pick up your cardboard.

Do you use wearable technology or mobile devices in your classroom, or have ideas for using them? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!



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