What could be the next revolution in technology gadgets is taking its baby steps in certain corners of the Richmond area, including one school.
In the classrooms and hallways of St. Bridget School, students and teachers are exploring ways to use a device called Google Glass — essentially a wearable computer that fits on the head like a pair of eyeglasses and that looks like some sort of headgear from a science-fiction movie.
Developed by the California-based tech company and online search giant Google more than two years ago, Google Glass has generated a lot of buzz in the media. The company has sold it to a limited number of customers who serve as “explorers” while the company works on improving the technology.
Students and teachers at St. Bridget, a Catholic school in Richmond’s West End, are slowly integrating Google Glass into every subject. The device has fit nicely into the school’s overall use of classroom technology including iPads and Chromebooks, said Eric De Boer, instructional technology specialist at the K-8 school.
“We try to integrate technology into our curriculum, so it is more of a seamless thing for students,” De Boer said. “It is kind of a neat tool for lessons where you need to use your hands.”
Google Glass can respond to voice commands, enabling the wearer to run Internet searches, listen to music, take pictures, and record or watch videos hands-free, but there is also a touchpad on the device.
Ask Google Glass when the Titanic sank, and it runs a Web search and gives you the answer, which pops up on a tiny computer screen appearing through a prism just above the wearer’s right eye.
So far, St. Bridget students have made a lot of videos, including a short film posted on YouTube called “A Day at St. Bridget School.”
Because Google Glass records things at the same level as the wearer’s eyes, the video lets viewers experience the students’ school day the way they see it: Hopping out of mom’s car in the parking lot in the morning, raising the flag in the schoolyard, having cheese sandwiches at lunch, doing arithmetic in class, playing flutes in music class, having fun on the swings in the playground, and doing pull-ups in gym class.
“For the first time, you are able to see school through the eyes of the students,” De Boer said.
Students in Megan Wright’s seventh-grade art class were using Google Glass last week to record their work on a project drawing self-portraits. Those recordings will come in handy for next year’s seventh-grade art students, who can watch the first-person videos and learn from them.
“What I have been doing with Google Glass is making tutorial videos, especially for the younger classes,” Wright said. “When I introduce something new to them, they have hundreds of questions. So I have been making tutorials that go through all of the steps. They can watch those instead of waiting on me to answer all their questions.”
De Boer, who teaches a technology class at the school and also serves as a tech coach for other teachers, was able to buy a Google Glass for St. Bridget through one of Google’s limited sales in December.
The price for Google Glass is $1,500, so De Boer asked the school’s parents to make donations through the crowdfunding website Fundly.
“Within 17 hours, we had raised the amount that we needed,” he said.
Right now, Google Glass has a limited number of functions, but De Boer foresees the number of applications available for the device growing as it becomes more widely used, just as the number of applications for smartphones has blossomed.
“As more people get devices, developers are more motivated to develop apps for a wider audience,” he said. “The more apps that are developed, the more you can do.”
Google Glass is popping up among users here and there around the Richmond area. For instance, cosmetic facial surgeon Joe Niamtu III of Chesterfield County also bought Google Glass about two months ago and has been using the device in his office to make recordings of surgical procedures and patient consultations.
Chesterfield resident Ian Tyndall bought Google Glass in November as part of Google’s explorer program.
“I have a lot of curiosity about technology and these types of things,” said Tyndall, director of information technology for Altria Client Services.
Tyndall wears prescription lenses, which meant he could not use Google Glass all the time when he first got the device. But about two months ago, he got a custom frame for Google Glass that fit his eyeglass lenses.
“I have been wearing it pretty much full time since then,” he said.
Like the students at St. Bridget, Tyndall has found that the most practical and fun way to use Google Glass right now is for hands-free photography. “It makes it easier to capture spontaneous moments,” he said, such as a family trip to Busch Gardens where he was able to take pictures of his two sons and share them immediately with their grandparents in California.
“I am trying to immerse myself in it to understand what its uses could be,” he said. “I get some interesting reactions from people. The most interesting experience about wearing Google Glass right now is the experience of wearing it and having people see it and ask about it.”
Google Glass has provoked controversy nationwide, with the potential for invasion of privacy being a top concern along with safety issues such as distracted driving.
Tyndall said people often ask him whether he is filming them. “People inevitably have to ask that question,” he said. But he said reactions are “predominantly positive.”
“The thing that has struck me as the most surprising is how many people want it,” he said. “There is a lot of interest in this technology.”
De Boer and St. Bridget School Principal Raymond Honeycutt say the educational setting is one example of how a new and perhaps initially intimidating technology can have beneficial uses.
Honeycutt said he likes the way Google Glass has sparked students’ curiosity.
“It creates excitement, and it promotes a desire in the students to want to look beyond the obvious,” he said, “and I think that is so important.”