Glass in Class: Writing with Google Glass

Jason Tham, Megan McGrath, Ann Hill Duin, Joe Moses
Department of Writing Studies, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities

The deployment of Google Glass as a wearable composing technology for writing in the classroom challenges conventional writing instruction and learning practices.

Background

We are a wearables research team (WRT) at the University of Minnesota that seeks to explore ways to integrate wearable technology into writing studies and technical communication practices such as project design and management. In 2014, we received a grant to purchase 15 Google Glass devices to deploy in various writing courses. Having experimented and workshopped assignments with undergraduate students over last year, we now have some exciting stories to share. Here, we showcase four assignments designed with Google Glass integration; some examples of student work; and student feedback on their experiences. It is our hope that these assignments provide a conceptual framework for future iterations of assignments as wearable technology continues to evolve and proliferate in our lives.

What We Did

Our project seeks to explore the use and impact of Google Glass on writing pedagogy across lower and upper-level courses. At a time when such a device is rarely affordable for a student or faculty member ($1,500 per device), our deployments make use of the device in a way that has applications beyond the device itself. We provide students and faculty an opportunity to envision future scenarios in the teaching and learning writing. As a new technology, Google Glass opens opportunities for reframing instructional and social expectations for writing. The voice-activated search feature and point-of-view camera on Google Glass enables students to interact with text, image, voice, and video during composition––revealing a potential for reframing technical writing process pedagogies, digital literacies, and students’ future work as communicators.

During our research in 2014-2015, we were able to test the use of Google Glass in seven courses. Across these courses, we also investigated the impact of Google Glass on students’ work in the following categories:

  • design of interactive learning environments for writing;
  • synchronous collaboration;
  • synchronous writing response;
  • self-directed learning and editing scenarios;
  • think-aloud protocols for research and documentations.

Quick Overview of Google Glass

Fig.1: Google Glass hardware overview (in main entry) . A pair of Google Glass with its parts labeled as audio out, battery, on or off, mini USB, computer including touch pad, microphone, camera, and display.

Figure 1: Google Glass Hardware Overview. Source: http://its.uiowa.edu/support/article/102167

Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display. Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format that can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

Google Glass works via voice command, like, “OK Glass, get directions to…,” “send a message to…,” “record a video…,” etc.

We used Google Glass in three technical communication and one first-year composition courses. These courses were taught in Spring 2015 at the Department of Writing Studies and the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. The number of students in these courses ranged from seven to 24 students. In each case, students were first introduced to the concepts of wearable technology and how wearables might impact writing and technical communication, and then asked to give oral or written consent to participate in this WRT research..

Assignments At a Glance

Each of us designed an assignment that aims to experiment with the affordances of Google Glass for writing-related activities. In the table below, we provide a brief overview of the four assignments we deployed in our respective classes. Click on the assignment title to view the complete description of the assignment as a PDF.

Course: Project & Development
Instructor: Joe Moses
Assignment: Google Glass User Scenarios (PDF)
Description: Students craft technical documents by developing user scenarios for Google Glass.

Google Glass User Scenarios (Link to Google Document)

Course: Technical & Professional Writing
Instructor: Megan McGrath
Assignment: Creating Multimodal Video Arguments with Google Glass (PDF)
Description: A two-part assignment that allows students to investigate the roles and uses of Google Glass in technical communication, and create video arguments.

Creating Multimodal video Arguments with Google Glass (Link to Google Document)

Course: Writing with Digital Technologies
Instructor: Ann Hill Duin
Assignment: Exploring Design, Use, and Feasibility of Google Glass in Specific Fields (PDF)
Description: Students consider the design, use, and feasibility of a wearable device for use in writing and/or in their fields of work. Students create multimedia blog sites to discuss wearables rhetoric.

Exploring Design, Use, and Feasibility of Google Glass in Specific Fields (Link to Google Document)

Course: University Writing
Instructor: Jason Tham
Assignment: Google Glass-supported Peer Review (PDF)
Description: Students use Glass to create point-of-view video feedback for writing peer review.

Google Glass-supported Peer Review (Link to Google Document)

Overall Observations

Our experience integrating Google Glass as a wearable composing technology for writing in the classroom challenges conventional writing instruction and learning practices. Instructors become more aware of the affordances of Google Glass in enriching the writing experience and are more creative in designing learning activities that help students see the values – as well as limitations – of new composing devices. Google Glass has helped us teach students to compose and design content for multiple media, audiences, and contexts while studying the usability of emerging products and processes. Writers and technical communicators need to position themselves as skillful evaluators of technologies. The deployment of a wearable technology like Google Glass in the classroom setting allows students to practice that exploration in a low-stakes environment.

Tips for Deploying Wearables in Class

A lot of work goes into preparing the devices and developing lesson plans around using a wearable technology like Google Glass in the class. Here are some strategies that would help the successful implementation of a wearables course.

  • Device storage: Establish a secure and efficient way to allow students access to devices while ensuring that the devices are stored properly. Consider using your institution’s library, smart media lab, or technology center to establish a check out system and put necessary policies in place that address the needs of students and instructors.
  • File sharing: Use secure Google Drive, Dropbox, or institutional learning management systems to store, share, or transfer media files created with the device.
  • Technical support: Get early buy-in from your institution’s administrative units such as the provost administration, classroom or academic technology support, and IT offices by discussing, validating, and using their experiences to build a foundation for a wearables collaboratory. These collaborations will prove to be beneficial especially in classroom support, research initiatives, and devising plans for advancing instructional technology and design.

Conclusion

Given its increasing proliferation in private and public sectors, including education, wearable technology is an area we shouldn’t ignore. As writing scholars and teachers, we should strive to design curriculum that responds to the changing landscape of writing and writing instruction. For example, students in our courses are studying to become writers and technical communicators who will work with complex material in an environment where, increasingly, information is digital and produced using complex information management systems. Our project is only part of the big picture addressing a critical need for reimagining writing pedagogy and digital literacies as we prepare students to be literate citizens, where complex technology and systems are already a commonplace.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts (CLA) for their generous funding of “‘Reframing’ Writing Pedagogy and Digital Literacies Across the CLA Curriculum,” an Academic Innovation Grants initiative. This funding provided for the Google Glass devices and support of undergraduate student participation on the research team.

Jason Tham (http://jasontham.com) is a PhD student in the University of Minnesota’s Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication program. He studies how emerging technologies invite different ways of thinking and learning, and the increasingly intense flow of information occurring between people and machines. One of his long-term projects is the study of the scale and intensity of interconnected complex learning networks in the digital communication context.

Megan McGrath (http://cla.umn.edu/about/directory/profile/mcgra340) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Writing Studies Department at the University of Minnesota––Twin Cities, where she teaches first-year writing and technical and professional writing. Her research examines how emerging technologies, such as wearables, influence agency, identity, and social norms. In the process, Megan’s work also focuses on helping students cultivate digital literacies in ways that draw attention to the power structures enabling and constraining–and enabled and constrained by–technology use today.

Joseph Moses, Ph.D. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/joemoses), is a Senior Lecturer of writing studies at the University of Minnesota where he is developing an agile writing framework for instructional design in technical communication.

Ann Hill Duin, Ph.D. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/ahduin/), is a Professor of Scientific and Technical Communication at the University of Minnesota, where she is Director of Graduate Studies. Having pioneered the University’s first online course at the graduate level, she continues to study the impact of emerging technologies––including networked learning and wearables––on the future of teaching/learning and higher education.



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