Even before the Apple Watch was released, professors and pundits began speculating on whether it and other wearable devices might play a role in college classrooms. On Monday researchers at Pennsylvania State University’s main campus announced that they would be among the first to test the device’s usefulness in the classroom.
The experiment will begin this summer, with eight Apple Watches the university purchased for the project. Penn State plans to expand the research to more students in the fall. We caught up with Kyle Bowen, director of education-technology services at Penn State, to hear more about the project, and his thoughts on the possible role of wearables in teaching and learning. Following is an edited version of the conversation.
Q. I understand a professor there will be experimenting with Apple Watch to measure student learning this fall. Can you briefly describe that project?
A. What we’re looking at in this particular research is how can we use wearable technologies like the Apple Watch to help students think about and reflect about how they learn. We know what the hallmarks are of engaged students: There are years of research that help us understand what an engaged student is and what they look like. But one of the challenges you have is how do you capture those types of activities in a Fitbit-like way — something that is very simple and easy to interact with, to think about reflectively how it is that you’re learning. We’re looking at the Apple Watch as a reflective tool to capture how the students are reacting with their classmates, how they’ve been interactive with their material, how they’re learning and using that to self-inform the student in a number of different ways.
Q. Can you paint a picture of what that will look like for one of the students in this experiment?
A. How it works is, the student will wear the watch and on kind of a random interval the student will get sampled from a series of questions, and will receive a question like, “Have you studied with a classmate recently?” Or, “How much time have you spent studying recently?” Or, “Have you applied something recently from another course to your current class?” So that will be the first step … capturing that piece of information. And we’d have a series of questions like that throughout the day, and when the student would get that question, they could kind of respond to it, or dismiss it and answer it another time. Additionally, the student could … provide a voice feedback, so they could talk to us into the watch about how they've been studying. And we can convert that and actually do some textual analysis after the fact.