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The potential of Google Glass as an e-learning device (guest blogger – John Laskaris)

October 27, 2014 1 comment

A first today – a guest blog from John Laskaris, eLearning Specialist, Instructional Designer, TalentLMS and eFront Evangelist. Many thanks to John for his insightful look into the future in terms of linking Google Glass and eLearning.

Google Glass

Technology, from the mighty computer to the lowly lever, has always been about expanding our powers and capabilities. As the famed sociologist Marshall McLuan observed “all technologies are extensions of our physical and nervous systems to increase power and speed”. For the most part of history, though, this expansion had the form of tools that we made use of. It was only in the 20th century that the concept of technology as a hybrid between man and machine finally emerged as a shared dream of science fiction and science alike.

We might still be some ways off from fully realizing that dream, but we’re getting quite close, with inventions covering the whole gamut of human abilities, from the humble hearing aid to intelligent prosthetic limbs and prototype brain-machine interfaces. And with advances in miniature mobile CPUs and wearables, those kinds of tools are slowly but steadily entering the consumer market. In this post we’re going to cover such a mass market offering in the area of augmented reality, Google’s much publicized Google Glasses, and its potential for e-learning.

Google Glass

Essentially a pair of glasses with a fast processor with wi-fi and GPS connectivity, a camera and a heads-up display (HUD) attached, the Google Glass made quite a few waves when it was first announced a couple of years ago. Some of the publicity the Glass got was about the negative reactions to its built-in point-of-view camera, but most focused on the possibilities such a device offers, as it’s essentially putting augmented reality in the hands of mass market consumers for the very first time. As this mass market also includes learners and educators, we, as most e-learning professionals, were understandingly intrigued.

Google Glass, still in its early iterations, is nevertheless an ideal platform for augmented reality applications and experimentation. For some e-learning applications what’s included as standard (camera, HUD and wi-fi connectivity) will be enough, whereas more ambitious projects can take advantage of the Google Glass API (a set of programming specifications allowing developers to create custom applications leveraging the Glass’s hardware).

In most promotional material, reviews and user experience posts, the POV camera seems to be the most used feature of the device. It’s something which is not unique to Glass, as it can also be found in cheaper products, but combined with the wi-fi connectivity and full blown OS and API the Glass provides, it allows for some quite innovative uses.

Learning Potential

While Google itself doesn’t promote the Glass as a learning tool per se, they do feature a couple of “user stories” in their Glass website that hint on its e-learning potential. The first shows how Andrew Heuvel, an e-learning educator specializing in physics, used the Glass in combination with Google’s Hangouts (video-conference service) to take his students on a virtual tour of CERN. His students back in the Michigan were able to see what he saw (through Glass’s point-of-view camera), ask questions, and guide him in exploring parts of CERN and the Large Cauldron Collider they wanted to learn more of. The second story is of See professional tennis player Bethanie, who used Glass to record, study and analyze her moves as she prepared for Wimbledon.

Most e-learning uses of Google Glass up to date fall into these two general patterns, of analyzing recorded material and providing a kind of virtual “field trip”. The University of Alaska, for example, uses Google Glass similarly to the way Heuvel used it, to “send the live feed [of professors on site in remote Alaska locations] to students located around the world”.

In an educational setting Google Glass would be great for having a team of students follow a teacher in real time, seeing what he sees and being able to listen to his lecture or have a live Q&A session – and it’s something that can be done on the cheap, as it only takes a pair of Google Glasses for the teacher and a wi-fi (or 4G) connection. In the absence of the latter, the Glass could also be used as a simple POV camera for recording e-learning video material (virtual tours, etc), though of course there are cheaper options for this, such as the GoPro camera.

Google Glass2

For a more evolved (and expensive at the moment) setting, the students could be equipped with Google Glasses themselves, and the virtual class could participate in some kind of distributed knowledge-gathering exercise or a large scale experiment involving several locations.

It would also be useful in student-to-teacher video conferences,  for e-learning subject involving physical manipulation of objects (e.g anything from woodwork to piano playing and surgery), enabling the teacher to see and comment on the student’s actions.

Of course those uses are only the tip of the iceberg concerning the potential that Google Glass has as an educational tool. More intelligent (and novel) uses would have to use the Google Glass development API. Google, it has to be said, provides a great set of resources to get started with this, from the Glass API itself, to detailed documentation, code samples, development tooling and even Google-blessed community resources (Stack Overflow, etc). And should you want to distribute or sell your e-learning Glass-based app (or Glassware, in Google’s terms), there’s the aptly named MyGlass app and marketplace,  allowing users to discover and install Glassware applications.

Google Glass applications, or “Glassware”, offer the possibility of extending Google Glass beyond the basic point-of-view tele-conference realm, into full blown augmented reality applications, providing contextual and supporting material to all kinds of e-learning content, on and off the field.

As consumers embrace it, prices drop, and processing power increases, Google Glass has the potential to become an indispensable tool for e-learning. And with 20 million devices  expected to be in users’ hands by 2018, this future might come sooner rather than later. For now we suggest to any e-learning professional to get his hands on one and explore the ways it can help spice up his content and classes.

Bio – John Laskaris,  eLearning Specialist, Instructional Designer, TalentLMS and eFront Evangelist.. Interested in new technologies and ideas that help education and improve training processes. Always looking for new ways to help engage learners and bring better results.

Image credits

  1. Ted Eytan, Flickr
  2. Ted Eytan, Flickr
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