Smartwatches can potentially be very useful in education

school smartwatch - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Smartwatches are- right now at least- mostly just information display devices. The ability to just glance at some information on your wrist is however very useful, and I think that the product type will eventually make its way into the classroom.

There are a few different specific uses I’ve been considering for using a smartwatch in the classroom. One idea I had when I got my Sony Smartwatch was to create a very simply system where students could send messages to the watch from a web interface. The idea is to allow students to ask questions that they’re too shy to ask out loud, as you often face situations where half the class is wondering about the same thing and all of them are too shy to ask. This would allow the teacher to see questions on the watch, and incorporate the answers as an answer to a general question, rather than towards someone in particular.

I actually have a working prototype of this, which is really just a combination of what I already do with the watch and Tasker together with a very neat feature in AutoRemote. I haven’t tried it in practice, however, as first of all it’s just a very quickly put together system, and second, there are a couple of potential issues. If the system is anonymous, you risk it being used for joking around.It might also actually drive students to becoming even shyer than before, causing them to use the watch system even if they would otherwise have asked directly. Finally, it can end up distracting the teacher, especially if a ton of messages come in at once.

Another idea I have, though one that would require a bit more work on the back end in Tasker, is a help queue system. Raising your hand is still the standard way to ask for help in a classroom situation, and there are several issues with this. Often, the teacher doesn’t see the student, doesn’t see the student right away, or have no clue in what order students raised their hands. Having to sit there for ten minutes with a hand raised, waiting for help, while the teacher is desperately trying to help everyone in order, is not how students should have to spend their time in school.

My idea is to create a system where students can ask for help by clicking a button on a phone, PC, or whatever else they’re using. This adds the student to the help queue, and that queue is displayed on the teacher’s smartwatch, showing for instance the name of the current student, next student in line, and total students in line. A press of a button on the watch marks the current student as having been helped, and the watch brings up the next student. This would allow the students to continue working, everyone would be helped in order, it would be easier for the teacher to keep track, and a vibrating watch is much harder to miss than someone raising half their hand in the back of the classroom. Potentially you could also build statistics, help categories, and other things into this system.

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to build the above system right now for my Sony Smartwatch, but something like this should really be made from the ground up. iOS is very popular in education, and if there’s an Apple smartwatch coming, something like this might eventually make its way into the App Store that way.

Of course, you don’t need complicated systems like the above to make use of a smartwatch in the classroom. Just being able to put a few lines of text on an easily reachable screen would potentially be very useful for lecturers and others who just need those few keywords to make sure they’re covering everything- like a PowerPoint presentation on your wrist.

Speaking of PowerPoint, a smartwatch would make a decent presentation remote. I have my Satechi Smart Pointer which is really useful, but if it hadn’t been for the fact that I use my iPad for presentations and the watch is connected to an Android phone, I would have looked into a way of connecting those.

Finally, just being able to set a discrete vibration alarm at various times would be a very neat feature to have on a watch. This could be used to notify the teacher of breaks, the class being over, when it’s time to switch topics, or anything like that. It’s such a simple feature, but time management is important when you’re a teacher.

For all the examples above though, a smartwatch with a display type capable of always being on would be best- meaning something like the Pebble, not the Sony Smartwatch. It would simply be too distracting to always have to nudge the screen awake otherwise, and the unfortunately reality is that LCD-based smartwatches don’t last long with the screen on.

That being said, I should point out that none of the above scenarios really require a smartwatch, and it would be possible to do the same with a phone, tablet, or even computer. I do think that the smartwatch form factor has very significant advantages here though, with being a small, very personal information device attached directly to your wrist. I think that has a lot of uses that haven’t been explored yet, and I can only hope that they will be in the future.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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