With the introduction of more feature-rich and reasonably priced wearable technology for consumers, many educators are looking for ways to integrate these exciting new technologies into their classrooms. During a focus group at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in June 2015, teachers, technology facilitators, library media specialists and administrators reviewed the ways in which virtual reality (VR) headsets and smartwatches can facilitate student learning and support teachers. Here are some ways wearable technology in education benefits students and teachers:

Using Virtual Reality for Learning

One of the greatest benefits instructors see for the use of VR headsets is to immerse students in environments that they cannot physically visit. For instance, simulations of ocean environments, hazardous locations (such as oil drilling sites), foreign countries and even outer space can allow students to experience these far-away locations from the safety — and convenience — of their classrooms. By providing a multisensory experience, these virtual reality solutions can enhance students’ understanding of concepts and improve their ability to recall key information. Additionally, educators also thought of ways they could utilize targeted content for their students, such as trailers for upcoming books and animations for solving math problems.

With budget constraints that have reduced the number of field trips in many schools, teachers have also pointed to the possibility of using virtual travel to replace or supplement class trips to zoos, planetariums and other common field trip destinations. Many trip locations, including the Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka, California, have created digital environments that schools can leverage when creating virtual lessons.

The educational benefits of virtual reality headsets extend far beyond the elementary school setting. A recently released tool, called YouVisit Colleges, helps high school guidance counselors aid in students’ quests to select the right college, even if their families don’t have the financial means to visit it in person. By making use of the VR headset, this program levels the playing field and gives students the opportunity to explore university campuses around the world.

Making One-On-One Time With Smartwatches

Smartwatches are cost effective, discreet and loaded with functionality. So it’s no surprise that when it came time to identify the devices that make teachers’ lives easier, smartwatches led the category. Teachers expressed that they could use these wearable technologies to take attendance, to track students’ behaviors and to gather assessment information on the fly. This allows them to be mobile throughout their classrooms, taking the technology to the students’ desks and creating more opportunities for one-on-one instruction.

The immediate benefits of smartwatches aren’t limited to instructors — students can benefit, too. For instance, the biomechanics features in smartwatches make them useful in physical education settings. Students can keep track of their total steps, calorie burn and even their heart rate during a game of kickball. Getting kids interested and involved in their health can help set the stage for a lifetime of good habits. In science class, students can look up information about chemical symbols or solve equations using the smartwatch’s built-in calculator. Beyond the classroom, these wearable tools can even be used to store students’ lunch tickets or to show a hall pass.

Preparing Your School for Wearables

School systems that are ready to introduce wearables will want to go through the following steps before rolling them out:

  1. Assess your needs. If you are looking for ways to provide more robust learning experiences or to replace a dwindling field trip budget, VR headsets are a good fit. Meanwhile, if your most pressing need is to ease the administrative burden on teachers, smartwatches are a good place to start.
  2. Train teachers on how to use the new devices. Offer hands-on demonstrations or use them in a pilot classroom. That teacher can then train their fellow teachers in the use of the wearable technology in education and the best practices they’ve found with their students.
  3. Demonstrate the benefits to parents. Parents often don’t understand how technology is being used in classrooms, and they might be leery of virtual reality, in particular. This is another group that will benefit from hands-on demonstrations of the field trip possibilities and educational opportunities these tools provide.

What possibilities do you see for wearable technology in education? Tell us in the comments below.

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Jennifer Roland

Jennifer Roland is an experienced ed tech writer, having worked on various ISTE publications for 12 years before striking out on her own. Her work has appeared in Ed Tech: Focus on K-12, NPR-affiliate KQED’s education blog MindShift and edCetera. Jennifer’s first book, "The Best of Learning & Leading with Technology," was published by ISTE in 2009. Follow her posts about ed tech and marketing at edtechcopywriter.com. Follow her on Twitter: @jenroland

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