Commentary: Google glass: A head-up display to facilitate teaching and learning


  • Graham R. Parslow

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    1. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Copyright 2013 by The International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2013
    • Address for correspondence to: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia. E-mail:

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Google Glass is a web-connected wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display [1]. The technology allows teachers and students to share information in various modes of interaction that include flipped classrooms. The information is presented like a smartphone with input via natural language, voice commands, and a touch pad on the side. An optional lens can either be plain glass or prescription lens for spectacle wearers. A function that is independent of the visual presentation is the hands-free recording or transmission of what is seen by the wearer. In demonstrations [1], skydivers, abseilers, and mountain bikers have produced live streams of their exploits using Glass. A more utilitarian application is to connect remote experts with the scene of an activity where advice is helpful. For example, a chondrocyte implantation in the knee of a patient in Madrid Spain has been performed by a Glass-wearing surgeon while the video stream allowed another physician from the School of Medicine at Stanford University California to participate [2]. Stanford is assisting in the development of Google-Glass, in addition to other Google sponsored projects. The Stanford connection is due both to proximity of the Stanford campus to the Googleplex headquarters of Google and the legacy of launching Google in 1998 when Stanford provided the host computers for the Google web browser.

Google has built a multifaceted corporation with some 45,000 employees after launching as a web search engine. Among its businesses, it has established the Chrome web browser and the Android operating system to become a major competitor in computer operating systems and kindred software. Sergey Brin, one of Google's cofounders, has overseen the leading edge projects of the Google X division, a secretive facility run by Google and located close to the corporate headquarters in Mountain View California. The Google X division is known to be working on a self-driving car, internet service via balloons in the stratosphere, a neural network that can learn, speech recognition and object recognition from video. Google X projects are referred to as “moonshots” because they are ambitious, potentially achievable, and with the appeal of something aspirational beyond the limits of most corporate or even governmental budgets. If a moonshot fails it will not ruin Google as a company. Although head-worn displays for augmented reality in games and military applications have been a reality for decades, Glass is intended for mass marketing. Early prototypes in 2011 were unwieldy with a weight over 3 kg, but current versions are comparable to normal spectacles. Currently, only the Explorer Edition of Glass is available to testers and developers in the United States for $1,500. Just as the NASA moonshot of 1969 had many spin-off benefits, the Google projects are realizing practical outcomes for projects that require leaps in technology.

Jeff Dunn [3] has summarized the prospective educational applications and also the legal cautions for Google Glass due to infringements of privacy. Dunn believes that the recording facility offers the key to the most innovative applications. Students can record interactions with fellow students, including while on field trips. Later, students can analyze their own and others actions and responses. Teachers can also see how other teachers apply the technology. If you have a Twitter account then multiple comments from teachers about Glass can be reviewed using the hashtag, #GlassEdExplorers. Dunn notes that edited videos of lectures captured by Google Glass can be used to flip a classroom in the manner of the TED-Ed flip machine, as shown by the example in Ref. [ [4]. If Google Glass finds a market as a consumer item then it will certainly be used for education. This may have radical consequences for the entire structure of tertiary education when a learner can take a MOOC anywhere [5]. Learning may ultimately lose identity as a discrete activity.