(Almost ) seeing a volcano with Google Glass

91933-004-DAEEF82AI (almost) got to see a volcano up close yesterday thanks to Google Glass. What I did get to see was a forward-thinking teacher connected to a lot of other forward-thinking teachers who are putting the latest high-tech gear to use as a way to help their students learn and connect with peers around the world.

We take so much technology for granted these days, that I really feel like I need to repeat that last part. “…with their peers around the world.” And it wasn’t just a written connection, or a voice connection — but a video connection. Students from around the world had the opportunity to watch as Brendan Brennan took his class to visit a volcano in Hawaii.

Under the moniker of “Project Open Glassroom,” Brendan found a way to connect students with his class by utilizing computers, portable WiFi and Google Glass in a way that allowed the classrooms to interact, ask questions and see what Brendan and others were seeing, live as it happened.


A screen shot of Brendan wearing his Google Glass, shot with my Google Glass.

We have added 3 (count ’em) Google Glass feeds via LiveStream for the field trip in addition to the Hangout On Air. One for a student, one for a teacher and one for a volcanologist.

I watched it off and on, streaming it to one of my computer screens while taking care of work on others. While it would have been fun to focus entirely on what Brendan was doing, this was a great type of broadcast for multitasking in the middle of the afternoon.

I’m sure it was a great experience for all the kids involved, even if they didn’t get to see the volcano in a live feed. Obviously, descending toward a volcano in Hawaii with no cellular towers nearby is not conducive to streaming video and the feed was lost before they got to their destination. But it was a valiant effort that really showcased the power of learning that Google is offering classrooms through Glass and Hangouts on Air. (Unfortunately, Google announced last night that the next Glass software update, due out this week, will be removing video calls as a native app. We can still opt to use Livestream, but I hope video calls return soon after Google takes on its challenge to “make them better.” Otherwise, we’ll lose opportunities like this one used by the Houston Zoo and a hospital.)

Besides showcasing the power of technology, this experimental trip to a volcano also was evidence of the power that teachers have to show students how much more there is to becoming educated than what they can see within their schoolroom walls or read about in textbooks.

You can see pictures that some of the classrooms posted at the Google Plus Event page.

Kudos to Brendan and everyone involved in yesterday’s excursion. It was a valiant effort.

Mahalo nui loa!




This is why we teach

I’ve been an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University for 10 years this December. Looking back, I had no idea how many lives I would be touching in positive ways when I walked into my first classroom and wrote my name on the chalkboard. (For the record, I think I’ve used a chalkboard once in the past five years.)

Being a teacher isn’t easy. In this era of whirlwind technological developments, every week adds another handful of things to the stack of information to share with your students so they can be as well-educated as possible when they leave your classroom. Of course, just because something new has come along, that doesn’t necessarily mean something older can now be ignored. Sure, some stuff can drop off, but it’s rare to find things that don’t retain some relevancy in a lesson plan due to historic impact or context.

The pay isn’t great for adjunct instructors, but then, school teachers in general are not at the top of the pay scale in most cities. There are plenty of issues to deal with when it comes to keeping up with lesson plans, student homework assignments, grading, testing, attendance, excuses, requests for extra help and basic politics that occur in any job. So, one might wonder, what keeps teachers coming back into that classroom day after day, week after week? Why do we teach?

It’s about the students. It’s about seeing those lightbulbs go off over their heads when they figure something out. It’s about watching them grow and mature, finding the courage to finally speak up during a class discussion to offer an answer to a teacher’s question or an opposing viewpoint for other students to consider.

At the college level I have the joy of watching young adults move from student to intern, from entry-level worker to experienced employee. I have kept up with a number of students over the years and am thrilled to see them succeed and prosper. I always like to think I have played some role in their achievements. Maybe those current events quizzes that I forced on them every week to a never-ending stream of groans and whines actually made a difference! Maybe being harsh on them with my red pen — “bleeding all over their work,” as one student once told me — helped them become better writers and editors. Or maybe just being a sounding board by responding to their requests for advice on classes, classwork, internship options and networking opportunities helped make that one big choice that led them down the right path.

I received an e-mail yesterday from a student who recently graduated. She started out with, “Just wanted to let you know that I’ve landed my dream job.” And she ended with, “I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years. I wouldn’t have been prepared for an opportunity like this without your help, advice and wisdom!”

Thank you Michelle — this is why we teach.