This article was written for interface magazine November issue.
Okay so wearable educational technologies, what do we need them for? Who wears technology anyway? Well, everyone, we are covered in technology, from the sports shoes on our feet to the hair products on our head, they are all technologies. People love technology and they love to show it off. So why then wouldn’t you use wearable digital technologies in your classroom to engage, inspire and foster creativity amongst your students?
There are two approaches here, low tech and high tech. At the forefront, you may be wearing a smartwatch or fitness tracker, a virtual or augmented reality headset with noise cancelling wireless headphones that tracking your every move in the real world while you coexist in another. Or at the low-tech and more personal end of the spectrum, you could have a flashing light on a hat or a led bracelet to wear to the next school disco! Wearable technologies also fit so well into STEAM education.
The High Tech Examples
Perhaps your school’s Physical Education department provides every student with fit bits, or they require them as part of the stationary kit? We ask parents to supply a digital learning device but what about a physical fitness device? Think of the benefits to students by teaching a truly healthy and balanced lifestyle. My eight-year-old daughter has her own Garmin Vivofit jr activity tracker and this has helped her balance her indoors and outdoors activity. I imagine in a couple of years she may have a better device that helps her manage her Key Performance Indicators for Study, Exercise, and Diet as well.
Augmented and Virtual reality is also becoming mainstream. Soon you will be taking your class on a virtual field trip with everyone bejewelled in VR headsets. If you haven’t done so already check out Google Expeditions to get started with Google cardboard and a cell phone. Companies like Ford are already using augmented reality to design their cars using the Microsoft Halolens, so soon students will be wearing this technology in their next design class too.
The Low Tech Examples
Cosplay and Halloween are big markets in the US and products like Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express, Chibitronics Chibi Chip and the BBC Microbit have all been targeted to this market. These devices are easily accessible for all ages on the Microsoft MakeCode site www.makecode.com and available to buy from www.learningdevelopments.co.nz/shop So, there are resources available to bring into your classroom.
STEAM education is becoming the approach of choice in schools and wearable programmable technologies can tick many of these boxes. Technologies like led strips make great additions to any costume and learning how to assessable and program a circuit fits within the Digital Technology and Engineering curriculums. Creating an attractive outfit is surely artistic and calculating how many LED’s you can run is a practical application of Mathematics. If you like you can also get into the Science of the devices and cover electromagnetism or do some practical investigations into battery consumption. So many possibilities and fun too. I think 2018 will see wearable electronics find their way into many classrooms.
But let’s not forget the seriousness of this all, it may be low tech and tied to learning but it could just as easily be the next lifesaving design. How about using strain gauge wire sewn into a glove that controls a robotic arm, an example of allowing humans to remote control devices in hostile environments. And my final example, human prosthetics, for these must be the ultimate wearable technology, that which gives mobility to the disabled.
Just remember not to put them through the wash!