Wearable Tech | Q&A

Google Glass Gives Learners a New Point of View

A Glass pilot at the State University of New York Cobleskill is exploring hands-on, experiential learning with first-person video capture. CT caught up with CIO Jim Dutcher for his perspective on the project.

SUNY Cobbleskill CIO Jim Dutcher
SUNY Cobbleskill CIO Jim Dutcher

What if a paramedic student could view a delicate medical procedure directly through the eyes of his instructor, and then apply that experience to his own practice? A new pilot program at State University of New York Cobleskill will allow students to do just that, using Google Glass to provide first-person point-of-view video capture and replay in an academic laboratory. According to SUNY Cobbleskill CIO Jim Dutcher, the pilot seeks to enhance the delivery of experiential learning in support of traditional modes of instruction in two programs: paramedic training and animal hoof health.

CT: Can you give us a brief overview of the program?

Dutcher: We are a four-year school in the SUNY system. We pride ourselves on hands-on, experiential learning. We are excited about piloting the use of new wearable technology. We've made quite an investment in setting up a state-of-the-art simulation lab, and we are very proud of that infrastructure.

We've selected Google Glass because of its all-encompassing nature. You can record video streams and readily connect to the Internet. We are very eager to see how this can be incorporated pedagogically to have exceptional learning and teaching outcomes.

CT: The pilot will feature instructor point-of-view learning. Why is this important?

Dutcher: Being able to capture someone doing something in an expert fashion will lend itself to the creation of blended learning environments. Students can preview somebody else going through [a procedure] before they have to perform it live. It's the difference between a biography and an autobiography: The biography can give relevant facts and details, but to experience what a person went through, the better read is the autobiography.

CT: The hope is to use this new technology as a means of bridging the instructional gap that exists between delivery of theory and getting students in the field to apply and practice what they've learned in the classroom. Is that right?

Dutcher: In these labs, students are assessed based on their performance. In the paramedic lab they have to perform medical processes precisely. In the animal science hoof disease program, they have to perform minor surgery in an exact way. There is not a better way to do this than to get the first-person perspective on what procedure you are being graded on. Google Glass allows for that to happen. In a traditional academic lab setting, whether medical or animal science or biology, the instructor is only one person who would have to wander about. The moment is lost after the lab ends. There is nothing available to capture or replay.

Today we have the capability of putting video in the classroom. With wearable technology, a student can preview how a prior expert or student or faculty expert demonstrated [a procedure] from their first-person perspective and how things should be done. When it's the students' turn, we'll be able to capture their performance and be able to replay it [for the purposes of] faculty grading and the betterment of students. Research shows that the first-person perspective has a very positive impact on student learning outcomes. It gives a better overall understanding of the skills they need to acquire.

CT: Will the pilot help you to understand and surmount technical challenges to making this work, such as integrating Glass with other technologies?

Dutcher: The goal of any campus IT department is to provide service. In this day and age, the challenge is being able to incorporate what anyone brings to campus and being able to have it sit within the existing infrastructure. We want to make wearable technology work seamlessly so professors and students just plug and play and integrate with their Android device or iPad or our paramedic simulation lab environment. I think the nirvana we want to get to is to have it as easy to use as one would use a white board.

CT: How much of a technical challenge will this be?

Dutcher: It will be a challenge. How big will be determined by what combination of approaches we use. We have different technologies and combinations that we could select. The challenge is to find what is most effective and efficient. We have a plethora of technology to experiment with, but when it comes time to do our pilot in the laboratory in the spring, we will have that repertoire down, just as a conductor would in front of an orchestra. We'll make sure our music is accurate for everyone who will be playing.

CT: What's involved?

Dutcher: Determining what elements work best together, what tweaks we have to do to get various technologies to work in a network in a wireless environment to make sure that what we do is safe and secure. The faculty and students really don't care about what we have to do. For them, this should be as easy as flicking on the lights.

CT: You'll also be learning how to ensure privacy and security and compliance with federal regulations, including HIPPA and FERPA. What is the challenge there?

Today, because of FERPA, no college can post grades in public or any assessment activity that records actual lab work. That is private and held in confidence between students and faculty. We have to protect that. But there is opportunity for those who excel [at procedures] to perform and capture the first-person point of view to benefit other students. It will certainly be on a permission basis, and we have to protect the personal data.

CT: The pilot will focus on instruction in the areas of bovine hoof health and paramedic training. Why those areas of instruction?

Dutcher: These are labs that are very hands-on. The environment in my opinion is well-suited for wearable technology. Students and faculty will be able to operate hands-free and not have to worry about getting the technology to work. They'll be able to focus on their academic obligations.

CT: Do you expect the technology to accelerate acquisition of student competency?

Dutcher: Absolutely. Learning happens in one of two fashions. One, being able to relate to one's experience. Or two, having that direct experience. We have a large amount of experiential programs where learning happens hands-on. Being able to capture and relive the moment solidifies it in one's brain. It's a case of "I've been there and done that and I can relate."

CT: How about the impact on peer interactions?

Dutcher: People want to do well. There are self-motivators, but learning also happens on a competitive basis. When you have other people besides faculty critiquing your work, I think that helps tremendously. The analogy would be open source technology. A tremendous number of people contribute to open source efforts to develop software and hardware. They are successful because people take pride in their work. They know that what they are doing will be out there for everyone to see. The opportunity to provide feedback promotes a cycle of constant improvement. This technology enables that whole circle of continual improvement and good leaning outcomes.

CT: Do you expect to learn how wearable technology translates across different instructional programs?

Dutcher: I foresee other academic programs benefiting from wearable technology. I'll rely on faculty experts to call and say "I think this has applicability in my archeology program or my paleontology program." You never know. Once other faculty members see this in real life, they will come out and say "I want to try it." That's where the innovation will happen.

CT: How is Google supporting the pilot?

Dutcher: Google has been wonderful. Originally we were going to procure 15 to 20 pairs of Glass. We told them about the pilot, and they were willing to match that with an equal number at no additional cost.

Editor's note: Jim Dutcher will chronicle his institution's Google Glass pilot in a series of articles for CT. Stay tuned!

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