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5 ways to use the Apple Watch in your classroom

By Maureen Yoder 6/19/2015 Tools

I have a confession to make: I am an Apple person. Always have been. I was a proud of owner of an Apple One back in 1980. I was at the 1984 Boston pep rally where Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh, and I waited in line eight hours for the first iPhone in 2007.

I have also been a TWEEPOT (teacher who enjoys the educational promises of technology) since the days of 300-baud modems and tractor feeds. But I have never felt that a device was so much a part of me as my new Apple Watch. It is like my own personal Jiminy Cricket, reminding me with a gentle nudge that I am running late or that I have not been running enough to burn off the calories I consumed today. A nonverbal signal lets me know when I have to pick up my students from gym in five minutes or when I promised to call a child’s parent.

That’s not all it can do. Now I can easily store digital music, audiobooks and images on my person at all times and retrieve them without having to connect to the internet. (Connectivity is enabled through an associated iPhone as far away as 30 feet, but later this year full-fledged native Watch apps are set to release that will not require a phone.)

I know what you’re thinking. Personal time and exercise management are all well and good, but what can an Apple Watch do in a student’s hands? How can educators use it to improve their instruction or better organize their busy lives?

Let’s suspend the obvious for a little bit and pretend that the price has decreased — as it surely will within the next few years — and that schools can purchase them in bulk. What might an Apple Watch deliver as a 1:1 device in the classroom?

Here are five things that the Watch already offers students and teachers:

1. Onboard digital management

Throughout the day, the Watch is a partner in its wearer’s daily activities. It continually monitors your physical efforts, checks for upcoming events, and accepts phone calls and texts. It differs from a phone in that it is literally attached to you, and I learned quickly that asking Siri is often better than trying to use the tiny keys. Another alternative to the keypad is the Digital Crown, a knob on the watch's edge similar to a home button. You can get back to the main screen by pushing it and scroll or zoom by turning it.  For an educator or student, there is nothing you have to have in your hand, lay on a desk or leave behind when you move about.

2. Unobtrusive communication

With a gentle physical nudge, a young student could receive a message from a teacher, an announcement about an upcoming speech class or a reminder to take medication. It is easy to create alerts and read-only “glances,” which students can view quickly with a simple touch. There is also a handy “do not disturb” feature that would be handy when a student wants to silence noise and vibrations during class. “Actionable notifications” are predefined actions that you can act on right from your wrist. For example, a student could send a message to a tutor saying, “I’m on my way!” or, if they are in the middle of a lesson, “I will get back to you when I can.”

3. Apple Watch apps

Even though the Watch hasn’t been around very long, there are already some useful apps developed specifically for it, including:

  • Instapaper. This read-later service can convert articles to speech. Students can listen to assigned articles with a Bluetooth earpiece.
  • Dark Sky. You could easily incorporate this multifeature weather app into a science lesson.
  • Day One. This journaling tool, as well as other apps that involve input from students, can use the dictation function of the Watch, a hands-free method of inputting voice narratives. 
  • Babbel. This translation app is a natural for a language or cultural awareness class.

4. Constructivist learning

The naysayers who worry about cheating with mobile devices are assuming that data retrieval would sabotage a test. A truly constructivist lesson, however, does not rely on retrieval of facts. Ask students thought-provoking questions and have them collaborate on original projects instead. That’s where the Apple Watch’s speed, storage and Siri can help shift the emphasis to collaboration, problem solving and the use — instead of the retrieval — of facts.

5. Unique and effective collaboration

Apple Watch owners can communicate with each other in new and interesting ways by sending drawings, icons and even their heartbeats. Creative developers are already taking advantage of these features with such apps as:

  • Slack. Use this team collaboration tool to enable members of small groups to connect with each other.
  • Trello. Students can use this project management app to create a list of tasks, a timeline and deadlines for a project.

Clever educators will easily find plenty of ways to enhance their lessons using the unique features of the Apple Watch. And as a critical mass develops, the possibilities will only expand. Keep an eye out for dropping prices as competition from similar devices increases and for new, intriguing functions from third-party developers.

In the meantime, if you want to experience the coolest, most innovative device that Apple has produced in a long time, get one for your own personal and professional purposes. And while you’re at it, you can explore the potential of this new technology to enhance learning so you’re ready when it makes it to your classroom.

Ready to learn the right way to integrate mobile learning into your school or district? Sign up for our free Verizon Mobile Learning Academy to get comprehensive training and continuing education units for your whole team.  

Maureen Brown Yoder, Ed.D., is a professor of educational technology at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former classroom teacher, she currently works with inservice educators and teaches an online course on emerging technologies. She coined the term electronic constructivism and has written extensively on how to thoughtfully and creatively integrate emerging technologies into existing curricula.

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