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The rise of smartglasses in education: or, A shameless plea to Jaime Casap

Dear Jaime,

Between you and me, how can I get access to some of these Google glasses (or simply "Glass", as it seems)? I'm currently in Austin at Day One of the South by Southwest Education conference (or simply SXSWedu) - according to my brochure, you will be a featured speaker coming up this week. I know you have access to the secret vault: can I just get a taste?

For those of you lost souls apparently rummaging through Mr. Casap's mail and reading this letter that are unaware of said Glass, it is the project now coming to fruition by Google to essentially transform the entire population into an army of RoboCops, though theoretically less violent. Just humor me for a couple minutes and take a gander at this here video (audio necessary).

Did you watch it? I hope so, otherwise the rest of this blog post, err, letter to Mr. Casap won't have quite the same effect.

But as a review, the video essentially spells out the following: Game, Set, Match: Google.

I mean, what is there to say? How can we possibly justify continuing to teach our children in the same manner as we have for years when this sort of technology exists? To reference an oft-cited quotation from John Dewey (he of the decimal system): "if we teach our children as we taught them yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow."

Well, it's tough to argue that something like Google Glass does not drastically change our outlook for data search and capture in the future, and the very near future at that. Teaching a generation of children and simply ignoring the existence of a technology like Google Glass is not simply inefficient and lazy; it is inexcusable and even destructive. Skewing the learning experience in favor of memorization when the value of fact-based memory is rapidly decreasing is an obscene waste of time and energy. Skewing a learning experience in favor of how to search for data, what strategies to employ, why to gravitate towards some information over others: these are truly valuable. I graduated college a few years ago, and the course that provided me with by far the most practical and useful knowledge was a freshmen-mandated tutorial essentially about how to use Google. Each layer of my educational development at the university-level built off of that one tutorial.

Let's think about the possibilities presented by Google Glass: first and foremost, there is the simple ability to procure information the world over in an instant. True, laptops and smartphones have already conquered this challenge, but Google Glass is simply moving this procurement process to a more seamless endeavor. There is something to be said about not having to drop everything and frantically type a search into Google, and then sift through the results. Google Glass functionality is moving data search closer to a natural thought process, approaching the level of simply conjuring up facts within your own brain.

Directions, maps, Wikipedia, video consumption, video recording, translations; heck, we realistically are not that far away from automated United Nations-style instant translations of other people speaking. Language departments would be over as we know it, and we can get down to the more important stuff, like coding. Note taking? A thing of the past. Google Glass will record the lecture, seamlessly integrate the Powerpoint as the professor emails it out, perhaps even transcribe the words written on the blackboard. Students can now do something previously unheard of: sit back, listen to the lecture, and think.

Educators often speak of the value of a pen pal; conversing with a stranger from a distant place and unfamiliar culture. Can you imagine the possibilities of connecting to a buddy in China through Google glasses? Instead of reading notes or maybe sharing the occasional video chat in front of a computer, how about literally living through each other's eyes: walking through town, eating a meal at the dinner table - experiencing local culture through its natural lens.

Online education, distance learning programs - completely revolutionized.

And none of this even begins to scratch the surface of data implications. You want to talk about granular data into student behavior? How about being able to track exactly what a student is looking at all day every day. Or what about teacher evaluation literally through the eyes of the student? We could track what teachers are doing well to hold their class, what they need work in: we could build an entire professional development recommendation engine around the gaze of the student. This could get wild. Are there some touchy security/legal issues surrounding this discussion? Well, yes. But I never proposed that all of my ideas were winners.

Now, I am NOT saying that Google Glass is the answer to our learning needs. Not by a long shot. A pair of glasses (that undoubtedly have kinks to be ironed out) currently pegged at a price tag of $1500 is hardly a scalable solution (though they would likely make for one heck of a motivational tool if offered as a prize). But I'm not talking about Google Glass per se; I am talking about the functionality that this generation of product is bringing to market. This tool now exists. Today. It is not a theoretical technology off in the distant future; it is in use (by a select few Googlers, hopefully including Mr. Casap). And this technology will only improve. If this is what product 1.0, generation 1.0, baseline technology for ocular innovation looks like... imagine what will exist when a real market, with various vendors competing at different price points and looking to differentiate from their neighbors, comes to pass. It won't take long. Just look at the tablet market: a couple years ago, people left and right were questioning the need for the iPad; perhaps the truest sign of a revolutionary idea. Today, what company dealing in hardware doesn't have its own tablet?

The teacher is, without much question, the guiding hand and most influential aspect of the development of most learners. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. But an education that simply ignores the reality that we live in a world in which Google Glass exists is a short sale that would make George Soros blush.

Do I think Google Glass will have a tangible impact on K-12 education in the next five years? Probably not.

Do I think it is entirely plausible that within two years it will be commonplace for 12-year olds to waltz into school at 7:30 A.M. while playing the equivalent of Angry Birds with their eyes?

Well, no. I probably don't think that either. But three years... Watch out for three years.

The truth is, I really can't say for sure without testing these suckers out myself. I could be way, way off with this entire assessment.

And that's where you come in, Jaime. I have now exposed myself to the blogosphere: I am on Team Google. I need some reassurance that what I have said here is not entirely ridiculous.

Please, sir... Can I have some Glass?

Best regards,

Thomas B. Segal, Shameless Plea-er in Chief.

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