Last Christmas, my wife purchased a Pebble Smartwatch for me as a gift. I’ve always been sort of a “gadget guy” but my faculty role as someone who teaches instructional technology has ramped my gadget ownership up a bit. I’m always testing out new technologies to find the potential impact on teaching and learning. After a month of wearing my Pebble, I’m ready to make some general observations about the functionality of wearable technology and its future in schools and universities.
1. Wearable tech reduces noise. I think the general perception from folks is that wearable tech would make life more noisy. Along with the dinging and vibration of a smartphone, wearable tech involves people sporting devices that notifies them when something online happens. Most people would probably pass at this opportunity to flood themselves in MORE information and MORE notifications. In practice, however, the Pebble reduces noise in my life. Before the Pebble, I found myself pulling out my iPhone all the time to check on things even though most emails and texts I receive don’t really need my immediate attention. With the Pebble, I set up which notifications I wanted to receive and I quickly learned to dismiss the ones that weren’t THAT important. A text from my wife? Better check that one. An email about the menu at the campus dinner? I can save that for later. While other wearable tech (Google Glass, for instance) may increase the noise in people’s life, the Pebble has helped me better ignore my iPhone and focus on the other more important things in life.
2. Wearable tech doesn’t have to look nerdy. To some, the term “wearable tech” may conjure up images of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation or some nerdy 80’s kid sporting a digital calculator watch. The Pebble is nothing like that. In fact, I’ve gotten loads of comments on my Pebble and a few oohs and ahs from people who saw it in action. While a Pebble may not be as powerful as Google Glass, the watch is also not as obtrusive or as socially awkward. On first glance, the Pebble looks like a regular watch. Only after closer inspection would someone recognize that it does more than tell time.
3. We’re at the ground floor for wearable tech. While the Pebble is somewhat customizable, right now, the options are still a little limited. Users can swap out watch faces and download apps for their phones to increase their functionality. I’m currently using a watch face that reports the temperature (it’s currently 34 degrees) and weather (partly cloudy) but there are apps that will help me navigate new cities or keep track of the distance I run. But we’re only at the beginning of a larger wearable tech revolution. Pebble just announced the development of its own app store which should promote more innovation and design. But the industry is more than just Pebble. Other companies are releasing wearable sensors to prevent heart attacks or event to monitor folks’ emotional states. I’m sure 2014 will be a exciting year for wearable technology.
4. The educational opportunities are limitless. When I think about all of the applications for wearable technology, my head begins to swim. If an entire class were outfitted with Pebbles, individual students could receive feedback on classroom assignments or updated notifications on their classroom progress. And that’s just with the technology available now. It’s only a matter of time before textbook companies, course management system developers and instructional designers jump into the fray. Add in the wearable technology that’s on the horizon and I’m sure we’ll be seeing our students and teachers using wearable devices instructionally in the very near future. We’ll be moving from BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) classrooms to WYOD (Wear Your Own Device) environments.