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Wearable Technology: Sci-Fi Dream, Fashion Accessory, or the Future of Education?

Although we cannot yet fly to work, and although we still have to tie our own shoelaces, technology has revolutionised the past 30 years in a way that not even Doctor Emmet Brown could have predicted.  

Perhaps most important of all, computers used to be huge square boxes. Now they’re much smaller, yet much more powerful. They can even be worn on the wrist.

But how would you describe a wearable device to somebody from 1989, who had no concept of either the internet or mobile phones? Would you describe them as a genuinely useful piece of technology, or as just another fashion accessory?

How would you explain to Marty McFly – who was himself a student in 1989 - that in 2015 all students would work on mobile devices, smartphones, tablets, and laptops? All of those items are now readily available in most schools and educational institutions. Yet in 1989, they had barely made it to the most outlandish of sci-fi visions.

Today, most people still hold their devices. But remember how shocked the kids were in Back to the Future II when Marty played a video game using his hands? That’s the way things are going. Wearable technology really is the next big thing.

But what sort of role will wearable technology play in education? Will it change the way teachers train and students learn?

Of course it will. And here’s how:

More Fun in Sport

As we struggle to tackle a worldwide epidemic of childhood obesity, many have woken up to the importance of championing physical activity in schools.

The UK is one of the worst countries for obesity levels, and studies show that the problem starts at a young age. More than a quarter of UK children now in 2015 are obese (26% of boys and 29% of girls) and people finally seem to have realised that the time to act is now.

One of the most popular pieces of wearable technology is the fitness bracelet, which allows people to track their physical activities, such as running, cycling and swimming. They monitor heart rate and provide live details on distance and pace, enabling people to count calories, keep a tab on their progress, and even monitor their sleeping patterns.

How much easier would life be for PE teachers if every child in their class were given a fitness bracelet? They’d be able to monitor the physical activity of an entire class – or an entire school – on a single tablet. Meanwhile, letting kids see their own stats and their own progress could turn PE into a real-world video game, which may encourage more of them to adopt more active lives. 

Improved Connectivity

With wearable technology, distance learning could become the norm. Technology such as Google Glass could increase remote collaboration and improve connectivity all-round, providing better presentations, tutorials, and video guides for students located off-site. This could democratise education, as distance and class-sizes would no longer act as barriers to entry.

Wearable technology could also boost the efficiency of educational campuses, as you could instantly notify all necessary students of any updates on class locations, or any changes to their schedules.

A Virtual World

Wearable technology could take geography and history lessons to the next level. With virtual reality, you could take students to places where no school trip has ever gone before – thousands of years in the past, to the bottom of the ocean, or even to the site of the moon landings – all without leaving the premises. 

Safety & Security

Science students, too, could use wearable technology and virtual reality to enjoy a learning experience that’s simultaneously safer yet more “hands-on”.

Virtual reality programs could be used to recreate potentially explosive chemistry experiments, to allow biology students to get up close and personal to dangerous animals, and even to take physics students to the depths of space.

Issues of wearable technology in education

But of course, while there’s much to get excited about, there are also some slight causes of concern when it comes to wearable technology in the classroom:

Cheating - Some UK universities have recently banned wearable watches during exams, in case students fancied the idea of cheating. I can get behind this. When I attended university, the internet was unheard of. We had to look things up in books, learn things, and remember them. Why should kids these days have it any easier?  

Battery life – Are the devices too heavy? Can you really trust their battery life? What about overheating? How many hours are required for recharging? The physical demands of wearable technology means that an overreliance could cause for entire classes to grind to a halt should anything go wrong. The same can’t be said of blackboards, pens, pencils, and paper.

However you feel about wearable technology, you can’t stand in the way of the future. It’s here to stay.

But it remains to be seen as to the precise role wearable technology will play in education. Who knows? In 10 years’ time, students may even be able to fly to school.