I’ve had Glass for about six weeks now and have spent some time getting to know the device. I’m still impressed by how useful it is yet still equally unsure about whether this thing has legs for wider public use. I am even more solid in believing it has great potential to be a quality niche device in many different areas of work and life. But that’s a far cry from being a mass device.

The tension is fine with me. Part of my work in exploring the device with my J230 Multimedia Storytelling class in the second half of 2013 will be about both work and life. On the work end, I care about the journalism aspect. A colleague tweeted the photo below to me today and it made me smile.

cspan

Yeah, that’s C-SPAN showing a reporter sporting Glass before a press conference on Capitol Hill.

Although journalism is on my mind, this longish and detailed post is about how professors can use Glass effectively in their classes based on some things I’ve learned in my own experimentation as I prepare for this fall’s launch.

Some of the limitations of the device mean you have to think a bit about how you set up the device and configure it should you choose to use it in the classroom. Simply put, the device is really structured around one person wearing it all the time, whereas in a class setting you’re going to be sharing the device and so the transition between people needs to be as seamless as possible.

Because of that, you need to have a gameplan.

Setup: The Google account choice

The first thing you should know is that the device is tied to a specific Google account, and you can’t simply log the device out of one account and switch to another as you might do with a web browser on the computer. Don’t think of Google accounts on Glass like logging in and logging out. Think of it more like a SIM card in that the device won’t work without the Google account; they are enmeshed. You have to forcibly remove a SIM card from a phone, and with Glass you have to wipe it entirely and start over to use another Google account.

The pitfalls of linking Glass, then, to your personal account should be obvious as it pertains to the classroom. When I initially signed up, I linked it to my personal Google account, and that gave the device access to my email, Google+ account, Google Wallet, and any other Google product that Glass could handle. While this is fine for me as an individual (other than the very real security concern of losing the device and someone having access to my email), that would be a problematic setup the first time I allowed a student to use the device. I don’t want them to have access to my email or ability to publish to my G+ profile.

Anything you post to Google products via Glass is tied to this account. Pictures and video go to the G+ account linked to the device. You have no choice to send it to another account’s Google services without resetting it to factory settings and starting over by signing up the device on another account. But the biggest problem by far is that G+ is sort of home base for the device. Every bit of content you produce on the device, be it photos or video, is backed up to that account on G+ and would be lost in a reset. Factory resets should not be done lightly even if the process is easy.

Because of this, checking Glass out to students is requires some planning. It’s not practical to factory reset the device every time you check it out because the process takes 30 minutes and ain’t nobody got time for that. My workaround was instead to create another account for my students and I, complete with a separate G+ profile. Then I reset the device and registered it to that account. What we will get is a unified Google account that backs up all the content and serves as a central nexus for all of the pictures and video we post. It’s our class Google account.

What about other services?

The good news is the above problem with Google doesn’t pertain to any other service you want to use. What I’m talking about here are apps, ones that you can link to the device via the MyGlass web interface. MyGlass’ basic functions are threefold:

  1. Set up WiFi: WiFi setup is odd but fairly easy. You go to MyGlass via your browser and type in the name of the network you want to join. That brings up a QR code that you then scan by focusing Glass’ camera on it. It will snap an image of it and use that to log you in automatically. As I said before, Glass doesn’t work on WPA2 enterprise networks (any network that requires a password, essentially), so if that’s the case you’ll need to tether it to your smartphone, which can connect to an enterprise WiFi network and share that connection with Glass.
  2. Install and configure apps for use on Glass: More on this below, but there are several services that have built in the ability to use their product on Glass. Google has three products on there: Google+, Gmail, and Google Now. So far the official apps on MyGlass come from the New York Times, Evernote, Facebook, Path, Tumblr, CNN, Elle magazine, and Twitter. There also are unofficial apps from developers that you can install (at your own risk), and when you do so they appear on the MyGlass page for you to toggle them on and off.
  3. Get help for using Glass, either by videos they’ve made or by the active user forums: Google has made some excellent resources to walk you through features. The forums are essentially message boards where people can post questions, report bugs, etc.

A bit more about apps. On the MyGlass website it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 8.52.30 PM

Each of those apps shows up in a rectangle, and you can see it has a switch to turn it on and off. I’m showing this for a couple of reasons. First, I want you to see how clean the interface is and how easy it is to understand. Installing an app is a snap. You just click on the switch and it walks you through the necessary permissions similar how you enable other apps on that product. With Twitter, for instance, you are asked to give Twitter access to Glass for things such as posting and receiving messages on the service. Facebook works the same way. Tumblr asks which Tumblr blog you want to link to before going through permissions.

That leads to the second point. For educators, as difficult as the aforementioned Google account setup issue is, the app situation is much better. With a singular Google account, I can log in to Glass and toggle switches on and off when I go through setup with a student. For example, I have Twitter on. When I want to let a student use it, I switch it off and then back on – and Twitter walks me through the signup and permissions process again. This means you can set any non-Google app specific to the individual student’s account and you don’t need a shared Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Mobile setup

As I mentioned before, if you use enterprise WiFi at your institution then mobile tethering will be a must if you want your students to have access to Glass’ mobile capabilities. Mobility matters for me because I want to do spot projects that use uploading from the location of the video or photo shoot. It may not matter for your class but it’s worth thinking through. Is content enough, or is the ability to instantly share part of the experience you want to create?

First, the good news. I discovered that AT&T and Verizon both offer tethering (turning your phone into a modem, which allows you to share its internet connection with Glass, a laptop, etc.) for free under limited circumstances. They used to charge a decent amount on top of your data fee, anywhere from $10-$25 a month for the privilege. Tethering uses Bluetooth to connect, but bear in mind that what is being shared matters – if your phone isn’t on WiFi then you’re tethered to the phone’s data plan, and that could get costly in a hurry if you’re sharing video or doing Hangouts. So if your students use tethering, make sure to tell them to tether only when the phone is on WiFi unless they’re in the mood for a big data bill.

But there is bad news. Tethering is free only when the phone is part of a family data sharing plan (where several phones on a family talk plan share a pool of data). If your students don’t have family data sharing, they have to pay for the privilege. AT&T, for example, makes those on individual data plans upgrade to the 5 GB data plan (at $50/month) in order to get it for free, otherwise it’s going to cost $30 a month. Verizon is running around $25 a month. It can get costly in a hurry.

One workaround I explored was getting a cheap Android device for checkout. You’d buy the phone unlocked and then get either a data-only plan, or one with very few minutes. The best of those I could find was a T-Mobile plan for $30 a month, which gives you 100 minutes of talk time (who cares) plus 5 GB of data. But there are logistical worries here. If you get an irresponsible student who actually uses the phone and runs over 100 minutes, that could be a headache. Same goes for data. In addition, you’re adding a cost of the smartphone to your startup cost which includes Glass itself, plus an administrative headache for activating/deactivating the phone each semester. If possible, I prefer to have overage charges and billing be on the student so they will act responsibly.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution on data and wifi issues. It really depends on your use and what your students have in terms of their calling plans (if they even have a phone). I’d recommend using some sort of survey form to gather info on what phone they have and what kind of plan they have, then custom making your plan to that information each semester. With any luck, family data plans become more common and the issue is moot. Failing that, maybe consider pairing students who have data issues with other students in the class who have a smartphone with tethering, having them work in teams.

Or maybe Google updates Glass to allow it to connect to enterprise WiFi. That would be ideal.

Adjustments

One final area you’re going to need help with is making sure Glass is fit to the student, so you’ll have to get to know how to adjust it. All of that happens on the piece that rests on the bridge of the nose. You can move the pads laterally and vertically to raise, lower, or adjust the distance to the face. This takes a bit of practice, but it’s important to have a good fit so the student can shoot the best quality content possible. Again, Google has produced a nice guide to help with this.

Assignments

This is the fun part. It also requires some strategy. What is the purpose of Glass in your classroom? What does Glass bring that you can’t get from a smartphone or digital camera? How do you embed those goals in assignments?

For me some of these questions are less troublesome. Part of the goal will be to test Glass against a mobile phone. Since journalists are using the latter more and more these days, we want to see what the inherent advantages and disadvantages one device might have over the other. Thus for my class, comparison assignments don’t require an alteration of the assignment itself so much as doing a duplication component (such as taking a video or photo with both devices).

Other goals are more difficult. I’ve been saying Glass is a tool for the liberal arts. What I mean by that is that the liberal arts are all about shifting perspectives, about teaching students to think about their world from other points of view, engage those viewpoints and to critique them. Glass, in essence, gives one the ability to see subject matter in the first person, not the third person. So much of what journalists produce is done by pointing the camera at something and then documenting it. Glass is inside-out, letting a news consumer see life, activity, events, and so forth from the subject’s perspective. This is one of my favorite examples, shot by NFL punter Chris Kluwe (warning, NSFW language):

Capturing first person material as part of a formal requirement in an assignment requires some reformatting. For example, in my class they produce a mini-documentary during the semester. I’m adding a “glassumentary” assignment to the mix, requiring them to feature some b-roll footage from the point of view of the subject, meaning they must have the subject record something crucial to the story while wearing Glass. This comes with challenges (it has to be visually interesting, for one) but it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

This is but one example, but as I said, assignments are the fun part. I expect to spend some time walking through story ideas with students, constantly pushing them to ask the question “Is this story better with Glass?” If it’s not, then they have to keep working until they get it.

Conclusion

Glass presents huge challenges to the professor, but also an amazing opportunity. Most of the issues are in the setup and administration of the device, but once you solve those you can focus on the work.

I’ve shared some ideas here. What have you learned, and what are you doing to incorporate it into the classroom?

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Glass and the classroom: Cans and cannots
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One thought on “Glass and the classroom: Cans and cannots

  • March 19, 2014 at 10:55 pm
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    To limit the use of the phone, which might reduce the risk of voice plan overage, you can root the device and then remove the apk file for the phone service. That’s a bit brutal, but it should work.

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