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Watch out: Smartwatches stir discussion around classroom technology

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Wearable technology such as the smartwatch is becoming increasingly popular in classroom settings, with few universities taking action to prevent academic midconduct by their use. Credit: Courtesy of Will Sloan

Wearable technology such as the smartwatch is becoming increasingly popular in classroom settings, with few universities taking action to prevent academic misconduct by their use. Credit: Courtesy of Will Sloan

As Will Sloan sits in class, he stares down at his watch and smiles. Other students file into the room, maybe wondering what amusement could possibly be on a watch, but soon seem to shrug it off as Sloan pulls out his phone.

His observers are probably unaware of the Pebble Smartwatch on his wrist.

Wearable technology is increasingly used in an educational setting, and a few universities have taken action to prevent academic misconduct with these devices.

City University London and the University of London in the United Kingdom have banned all watches during exams in fear of students cheating with a smartwatch, but the topic of wearable technology is not a new one at Ohio State.

“Since the introduction of the calculator watch in the 1970s, wearable technology has been a part of the conversation around technology in education. As the technology we have access to becomes smaller and more ubiquitous, conversations about academic misconduct become increasingly complex, but the bottom line is that cheating, in all forms, is not allowed, regardless of whether it involves technology or not,” Liv Gjestvang, associate vice president of learning technology, said in an email.

Sloan, a second-year in computer science and engineering, said Pebble Smartwatches are connected to the user’s smartphone, and the users get notifications such as previews of text messages on their watches.

“The easiest way to think of the smartwatch is an extension of the phone,” Sloan said. “When we had flip phones, and on the outside there would just be a really basic screen, all you could see is just a little bit of information, but it’s enough to see kind of what was going on. And when you opened it up, all of the information was on the inside. It is kind of like that, except it’s right on my wrist.”

Sloan said he has never been confronted about removing his watch during an exam. However, he said he would be mildly annoyed if he was asked to do so, but he understands why professors have concerns about academic misconduct.

The use of technology in an academic setting was the subject of a study published last year. Conducted by researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, the study found that handwritten notes were found to be more effective in helping students retain information.

The study found that students who typed their notes had more content written down in a cleanly organized manner, but the notes were verbatim from the lecture. On the other hand, students who used longhand had fewer words, but they used keywords that demanded comprehension of topics to recall.

Richard Voithofer, a professor in the Educational Technology program, said new technologies, including educational films, radio, television and the Internet, have historically been met with distrust and skepticism.

“The classroom can be a very traditional environment in terms of teaching and learning,” Voithofer said. “Technologies can force a change in practice.”

The Pebble Smartwatch has four buttons with no touch screen, and even though you can read information on the watch, you cannot type. There are ways to write an application for the watch, and many users download applications that others have already developed, Sloan said.

“The watch is actually very low functioning by itself,” Sloan said. “It has almost no communication with the outside world, besides through the phone. So, you really need the phone. Otherwise the watch is basically just a watch.”

Other smartwatches, like the Apple Watch set to be released later this year, have already begun promoting the use of third-party applications on wearable technology devices.

Although many new technologies have been looked at with skepticism, Gjestvang said technology in a classroom setting can have advantages.

“How and when technology is used in the classroom is at the discretion of the faculty member,” Gjestvang said. “There are lots of ways to create assignments and assessments that allow students to explore and solve problems with technology.”

Even though there are ways to receive messages from friends on a smartwatch, Sloan said even in the classroom, he mainly uses it to check the time, as well as to glance at the notifications instead of pulling his phone out and getting mentally off track from learning.

“I use it basically for monitoring my phone. Whenever I get notifications, it comes up on my watch,” Sloan said. “It’s really nice and it allows me to be more conversational with people, because I don’t have to be constantly distracted.”

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