“It has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication…What use could this company make of a toy?”
When the Apple Watch™ wrist wearable was announced this fall, businesses did not rush to procure it for their workforce. Some reviewers expressed reservations, and many comments echoed the sentiments of the statement above – originally made about Bell’s telephone in 1878 by Western Union president William Orton.
Bell’s telephone eventually took off not only because it offered faster communication, but because it created a more enriching – more human – experience. As is often the case with enabling technologies, early use cases for “smart” internet-connected devices have focused on direct applications – refrigerators making grocery lists, cars scheduling their own maintenance, or traffic lights based on real-time congestion. While devices like the Apple Watch™ may lack these types of clear applications, core features like haptic feedback, biometric sensing, and integrated notifications help connect people more directly with their environment – and could create a more intimate experience.
Current hype around the “Internet of Things” has focused largely on how connecting devices can create efficiency, but connecting people directly to digital networks may have the greatest potential to shift our social experience and even alter traditional institutions. Think about how connected devices could reshape the standard American school, for example – an experience largely unchanged over the past century. While modern technology is often just a new tool or another bolt-on to the classroom, connected devices have the potential to drive new ways of teaching and transform the experience both for students and educators.
As students walk into the classroom, attendance could be logged automatically using a device such as the Nymi, a wearable “smartband” that uses the wearer’s ECG pattern to authenticate identity. When the students take their seats, a beacon might push a warm-up exercise directly to their smart surfaces. Teachers are freed from managing classroom procedures to focus more fully on students – and perhaps focus more incisively too. Neurosensors, akin to Interaxon’s Muse, could provide insight into students’ cognitive activity using EEG technology that measures the rate of brain waves like one might measure a pulse. Identifying which students are expending a higher amount of cognitive energy on an exercise would allow teachers to dedicate attention to students who need it – not just those who ask for help the loudest. And when it comes to classroom discipline, teachers could send a “haptic” vibration – similar to silent notifications on mobile devices – to a student’s wearable or tablet, redirecting her attention or behavior while helping to reduce the need for direct conflict.
Imagine how pattern recognition software or data analytics might add to the teacher’s contextual understanding by then mapping the record of behavioral incidents against a student’s cognitive activity, heart rate, or the classroom temperature. Senior educators with years of classroom experience often develop an intuitive understanding of such complex learning dynamics, but a connected classroom could provide such insights even to the teacher just starting out.
Incorporating just a few connected devices creates the possibility for more dynamic interventions, more advanced classroom techniques, and even a modified role for teachers that is more focused on individual students. By shifting processes and procedures to the background, the teacher has fewer responsibilities as an active “manager” in the foreground – which means more time to craft a personalized learning experience. Contrary to many expectations, more technology could actually make education more human.
Admittedly, this added value does not come without concerns. Some are already worrying about the rise of the quantified student, where a student ID, for example, may be linked to a student’s health record or family financial information. This is why it is particularly important for increased data collection to be designed around teachers’ need for specific, actionable knowledge, and converted into realtime indicators.
But at some level, transformational use cases inherently carry risk; if we are completely comfortable, then the new offering provides only incremental — if any — improvement over current processes. Connected devices offer new value by enriching and even changing human perception, interaction, and experience. To effectively incorporate the next iteration of technological advances, we need to understand how to design work and customer experience to take advantage of this value.