Today’s college students — and their parents — are as prepared to pay for laptops as they are to buy textbooks, shell out extra fees for program materials and absorb the costs of housing or dining programs. Now they may find themselves facing another tech expense: wearable technology.

The sweet spot for the classroom wearables market in the U.S. is higher education, which is already invested in the large-scale adoption of mobile technologies. According to recent research from Technavio, the market will grow at a CAGR of nearly 46 percent by 2020, with the wrist-worn product segment expected to account for more than 44 percent of the total classroom wearables market share in the next few years. This technology can enhance student engagement both in and out of the classroom by allowing students to strap on wrist devices to track fitness goals or improve learning strategies.

Moving From Physical Fitness to Classroom Innovation

Oral Roberts University is an early adopter of Fitbit devices, turning to the wearable technology as an upgrade to the requirements it’s always had for students to manually log fitness activities as part of its Whole Person Education program. In 2015, the school began requiring incoming students to use the wearables to do the job, feeding aerobics tracking information into its D2L Brightspace online learning platform gradebook. In a statement about the program, ORU provost Kathaleen Reid-Martinez said that the university “is dedicated to creating innovative academic solutions for our global student population. We are excited to offer this cutting-edge technology that will enhance our on-campus student’s experience and increase the convenience of our fitness programs.”

The program hasn’t been without controversy, though. An online petition against it complains that the constant tracking of daily aerobic activity and grading based on that data can be stressful and unhealthy for students. Indeed, a lack of data privacy and security are cited in the Technavio research as a challenge that could restrict market growth for classroom wearable technology.

Although Oral Roberts University’s work with fitness-tracking wrist wearables is more the exception than the rule at this point, most higher-ed students who own a wearable device own a health or fitness monitor, according to a recent survey, and they find them useful for physical fitness information gathering and utility purposes. The survey assessment notes that “these purposes can be extended into the classroom setting as students see the value of technology in their learning” — but also that this potential for innovation in the classroom is as yet untapped.

Will Wearables Work Academic Wonders?

Although it’s still early in the game, higher-ed leaders have faith that the connections between devices like fitness-tracking wearables, teaching and learning will become more apparent as the technology continues to develop and reaches academic use in larger numbers. Some say that the ability to capture personal information about sleeping or heart rates, for instance, can be relevant to the health and sports science education fields. Others have talked about how students could connect their wearable devices to sensors deployed throughout campus buildings to exchange personal data and open up new areas of communication with the institution.

There could also be future uses for aggregated, anonymized information about sleep patterns, diets and even campus routes traveled to be shared with descriptive and predictive analytics technologies. The data could help colleges gain insights that can affect everything from class scheduling times and locations to daily menu offerings.

Pennsylvania State University is notable for having planned a project to help students evaluate their learning experiences during the 2015-2016 academic year using activity-tracking wrist wearables. The project was designed to use wearables to collect data around student learning and visually feed that information back to them so they can see their learning progress on an app, similar to how they can view their health data progress, with the goal of students using that data to improve their self-regulated learning strategies and drive academic success and increase student engagement.

In addition to all the exciting ways for higher-ed teachers to implement wearables in classroom, the Technavio study also reports that their prices are decreasing, which is good news for parents and kids worried that the addition of wearable technology to the college classroom will have a noticeable impact on costs.

Looking for more innovative ways to incorporate technology into your curriculum? Colleges around the country are coming up with creative methods to implement BYOD programs in their classrooms.

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Jennifer Zaino

Jennifer Zaino has years of experience writing about the use of technology in education. She’s covered subjects including the deployment of Chromebooks as part of one-to-one middle school education initiatives; the use of thin clients in campus-wide higher-ed VDI efforts; and how semantic web, AI, machine learning and smart data technologies are transforming online learning. A former editor at PC Magazine, InformationWeek and Network Computing, Zaino covers a variety of technology, education and health topics for various publications. Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @Jenz514

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