The “internet of things” is a buzz-phrase, which simply means access to the internet everywhere you go, with common objects (televisions, tables, refrigerators, heating and cooling systems to name just a few) all connected and live all of the time.
We have all read about the refrigerator which sends an e-mail to its owners when the produce it contains needs using or replacing. We also know that our cars and trucks are computer savvy, with some more expensive vehicles capable of sending maintenance request e-mails to their owners and the car dealer. We are beginning to take these kind of developments for granted in our daily life.
A fast growing component of the internet of things is the wearable device. The Fitbit and its many counterparts measure steps, calories and sleep patterns while other devices monitor heart rates and body mass index as part of wearable health devices. These devices then connect to apps on smartphones and desktop computers, which track health behaviours over time and permit comparison to others of the same age globally and more specific comparison with friends.
The new kid on the block is the Apple Watch and already learning apps are being developed for this device. These include an app that provides context specific language support for the wearer: using detailed GPS tracking, for example, the watch “knows” you are in an Italian restaurant and will provide prompts so that you can order your favourite meal in Italian. Known as “context specific” learning supports, this can extend to the provision of relevant historical information (“you are just passing the site of a significant protest in 1969 when…”), which can be received either as text or a friendly voice.
While language learning and place-based learning linked to history, geography, sociology, and social studies are already available for such devices, the next developments are focused on using wearable devices linked to smartphones for self-assessment linked to a much wider range of learning. Imagine being a student four weeks away from final examinations in chemistry. What if your Apple Watch or smartphone asked you chemistry questions related to your course of study twice a day, every day for these four weeks? The daily feedback could help you focus review on topics you are weak in and reinforce your mastery of topics in which you are strong. These adaptive assessments are becoming more widely used and can be linked to open educational resources on the specific topics the student needs to master so as to aid their learning.
Also, imagine deciding you wanted to master the art of digital photography. Advice on camera settings, peer sharing, critiques of your photographs, and daily challenges could all be delivered to a smart watch or wearable device linked to a smartphone, thus enabling continuous, anytime learning.
So before you dismiss the Apple Watch as just another gimmick, ask yourself: how can we use these devices to support effective learning? Others are already asking this question and finding useful answers.