What impact could wearable technologies have on personalisation?

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I observed a class investigating the question “What concentration of sugar is lowest you can taste?” During the investigation it becomes clear that one student is having difficulty with the task because they believe the sugar “disappears” when placed in water. They are standing by the weighing scales getting agitated because every time they add sugar to the water the weight shown on the scales is increasing but they know they need to keep the amount of water the same so that it is a ‘fair test’. They conclude that the scales must be broken or they are accidently spilling the sugar so they keep throwing the water away and starting again. This is what the CASE project from the Institute of Education in London called “Cognitive Conflict” (CASE = Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education)

Cognitive conflict is an excellent event whenever it happens because it is a door to open up rapid new learning and, often, allows the learner to improve their conceptual model of the world. Unfortunately in this case, the lesson was about taste buds and so there was not time for the teacher to address this because there was, by now, a queue for the weighing scales and the planned activity had a set of closed required outcomes, none of which were to do with the concept of dissolving. So how does greater personalisation lead to more cognitive conflict and how does it ensure there is the necessary balance of support and challenge required to make use of it?

Firstly, there are words and facts that are needed to underpin any learning. In this case the word ‘dissolve’, how to weigh something, “soluble”, etc. Whilst it is possible to look these words up on your phone, you need to have enough working knowledge of them to be able to have a coherent conversation so there is really no option other than to REMEMBER these basic facts. Next step in most countries is to focus on written communication, hence the need to SPELL the key terms correctly (There is a big difference between ion and iron for example). After this you have to start to USE these ideas to test them out and it is in the active section that most LEARNING will take place. The ultimate test of this will be the ability of the student to TEACH it to someone else. In collaborative environments, the Learning and Teaching parts can ideally become entwined in a dialectic process.

The flipped classroom concept often refers to covering the first two concrete stages outside the classroom so that there can be more time for the USE, LEARNING and peer TEACHING parts when you have the benefit of the whole class being together.

Forensic strategies are ones in which teachers begin to predict the areas where cognitive conflict may happen and so set up activities that make these events more likely. In reality most teachers will set up learning activities for all the students, let them know what outcomes they are looking for and then circulate around the room using good questioning techniques to work out who has and has not met these learning objectives. Typically there are three or four objectives per lesson and with an average lesson time of 60 minutes and average class size of 30, a teacher has a maximum of 30 seconds to diagnose a conflict, question, support and challenge!!! Following this heroic act (which some teachers remarkably do achieve) they then have to remember the results so they can return to this later if needed.

This is an area in which technology can begin to make a large impact, particularly the new and expanding technology of NFC (Near Field Communication) together with ‘Wearable Computing’. Microsoft have incorporated NFC in windows 8 phones and are making big investment in smart watches. Their competitors are doing the same be they watches or glasses, the key thing is that they are worn and can communicate who you are to other devices.

Imagine a classroom in which every student has a small smart watch on their wrist (prices start at less than a dollar for an unpowered NFC tag). Also in the room there are a variety of phones, cameras, laptops, tablets and unpowered objects that also have NFC. If a student picks up a laptop their watch ‘tells’ the laptop who they are and so their profile automatically comes from the cloud and they don’t need to log in or authenticate. Anything they use that device for will be stored back into their cloud. The phone may not be theirs but the tag ensures that when they pick it up it is their contacts and settings that appear and their bill that is charged. The student only needs to authenticate once whenever they put the watch back on.

Imagine a sports lesson with a movement activated sensor and using a programme such as Dartfish which uses video to analyse tennis swings and other sports skills by comparing the position of your limbs with those of professional players. By walking into range and serving a ball the best and worst attempts will be stored in your cloud profile without you even touching a computer or entering any data. A peer who consistently has a good tennis swing could then automatically be asked to teach one who is struggling and the teacher is just informed. Perhaps Kinect could do all of this from a standard laptop already?

In the scenario of the Science lesson, the teacher can praise those students on the right track and the nearest watch is automatically credited. They can automatically combine data coming in from peers, tasks, questions and so on. This means that when a cognitive conflict occurs not only can the audio explanations be automatically stored and an event created for the teacher to check back later but, more importantly, there is the space and time created to deal with this.

As the school moves away from teaching the same things at the same time to all students, such technologies can track the gaps in skills and understanding that allow the teacher to still apply forensic strategies where they are most needed.

Saltash.net students were asked what they felt would enhance learning the most as part of the vision for the school. They devised the concept of the ‘Zapper’: a device which allowed teachers and peers to instantly praise a student and recognise something they have done well. You can easily imagine a future in which I say ‘Excellent teamwork’ and the watch of the student in front of me accesses their cloud account, sends a picture and name of the student in front of me to my watch with a ‘tap to award credit’ option and maybe allows me the option of telling them exactly what has amazed me so much about their work so that the audio can be recorded too for their parents to hear if they wish.

In brief • - ReSULT = Remember, Spell, Use, Learn and Teach.

  • • Peer teaching suggested as the ultimate test of understanding and collaborative skill.
  • • All of this is possible now but new technologies should increasingly allow more authentic peer assessment so the teacher can spend more time creating and responding to cognitive conflict.

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