I remember the first time I saw a Google Project Glass device in a public setting — January 2013. I had the same contradictory reaction many of us seem to experience whenever we come face to face with a piece of new technology: fascination, curiosity, and a bit of apprehension about how this latest arrival would affect the way we live, learn, and interact with each other.

As a Horizon Advisory Board Member for the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Higher Education Edition for the past few years and an avid teacher, trainer, and learner for much longer, I had been closely following the long-term development of wearable technology along with emerging technological themes in education. It was, in fact, the advisory board’s process of exploring new innovations in technology that primed me for that first close encounter with Project Glass. Each fall the NMC staff compiles the most up-to-date news stories, research reports and literature so that I, along with the rest of the Horizon Advisory Board, can use this knowledge as we answer further research questions and pinpoint the latest technologies, trends and challenges that are impacting education.


Wearable technology, specifically Google Glass, had long been on my radar, and yet still seemed to be far off. But there it was—before its mainstream launch (slated for next year) —in use by a young Google employee eating breakfast in a neighborhood diner with his family, including an infant. What immediately struck me, as I talked with him briefly and then watched him, was how seamlessly he seemed to engage in the same sort of conversation the rest of us were having without being completely distracted by whatever he was seeing through the tiny lens of the device he was wearing.  In retrospect I realized that he was far more engaged with the people at his table than I was with the people at mine since I was so intently watching for any sign that the head-mounted computer would interfere with his breakfast table interactions.

There is a sense of wonder that comes from exploring what is currently available and what will soon become available to us. There is also recognition that when  people use technology in their everyday lives, and with young people using it more frequently in their learning environments, there is always a chance it can be used to their detriment. Cyberbullying is a real and ugly phenomenon. Even the most cursory skim of news reports and other sources of information remind us that the use of webcams, social media tools, and mobile apps has led to student suicides among other severe traumas.

An equally weighty issue is that ubiquitous technologies, such as smartphones and wearable computers, increase our ability to download and share information freely, which is shaping how we address control and ownership of intellectual property and other forms of information, a fact illuminated by the events surrounding WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. Privacy in the new media age is one of the most challenging struggles we face. How do you retain any semblance of privacy in a world where smartphones, tablets, and wearable technology are destroying barriers that may lead to unfortunate results? What can educators and educational technologists do to confront this novel challenge?

At least three of the technologies we are exploring for the 2014 Horizon Report Higher Education Edition—wearable technology, learning analytics, and personal learning environments—bring into focus what I believe is going to be an increasingly important and controversial challenge for all trainers, teachers, and learners: how do we effectively incorporate these wonderful technological developments into what we do while addressing issues of privacy in academic and professional development scenarios?

This is the sort of wicked problem—a term referring to these novel challenges that evolve so quickly that the solutions we propose are outdated before we can even implement them—that is at the heart of what the NMC highlights in the Horizon Reports series, its summits, its online commons, and its other efforts to inspire thoughtful response at the intersection of technology, learning, creativity, and people.

It makes us realize that we need to be thinking about how Google Glass and other wearable technology can be incorporated into learning without negatively disrupting it and many other aspects of our personal and public interactions. It makes us think about how we will—and will not—use information gathered through learning analytics programs and other means of data collection along the lines of what some school district representatives are doing to monitor students’ online interactions.

It makes us think about issues of ownership in terms of who “owns” a personal learning environment or personal learning network developed within an academic or other workplace setting: if a learning organization or commercial business supports the development of those environments and networks, does it retain the ability to claim ownership once the instructor, learner, or employee leaves the organization? And, if so, what value is there to the organization or business once the individual who created the environment or network is no longer nurturing it?

One report or even a series of reports is not going to produce solutions to these wicked problems, which is why they are referred to as “wicked.” But simply knowing that they exist is the first step to finding solutions that work.  With each new Horizon Report, these issues are placed before us, with encouragement to meet both onsite and online to share across our global communities of learning and practice. I’d say that’s a good way to get started.

All images Creative Commons by giuseppe.constantino, jimmypons, g4ll4is, and jfiess

medium_Paul Signorelli bio picPaul Signorelli is a writer-trainer-instructional designer-social media strategist who has served on Horizon Project advisory boards since 2010; he can be reached at paul@paulsignorelli.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

five × three =