What is it?

Google Glass is one of the world’s first wearable smart devices, built into a lightweight, modular design that resembles (or includes) a pair of glasses. Google Glass lets you take a picture or record a video of what you are seeing, allows users to view a wide range of information (email, text messages, driving directions, search results, language translation, etc.), provides automatic reminders and updates, and can beIMG_20130805_115536_754.jpg programmed via custom applications to perform a wide variety of additional functions.

How Does it Work?

Google Glass is worn like a pair of glasses, and can be controlled through head movements (e.g., wink to take a picture), voice commands, through touch commands on the right-hand leg of the Glass, or by pairing Glass with another device that has control capabilities. Glass is designed to integrate with the suite of Google offerings (e.g., Google+, mail, hangouts) and functions most effectively when used in collaboration with these apps. It is intended to be intuitive, fun, and customizable – Google encourages the development of apps for Glass to expand its possible uses. Glass has expanded functionality over time, though as discussed below there are definite limitations to the tool. Google has an overview video that shows how to begin using Glass. 20131011_114303_421.jpg

Who’s Doing it? Use Cases at Virginia Tech

Google Glass has potential for a wide variety of uses within higher education.  At Virginia Tech we have experienced or imagined the following uses:

Teaching and Learning

  • Guided instruction: The Veterinary Medicine program at Virginia Tech is considering using Glass to record surgeries in the operating room for a true surgeon’s-eye view of the patient that can be used synchronously or asynchronously to teach aspiring surgeons. Instructors could take students on virtual field trips, or record other live events to use as instructional tools. Glass could also be used to provide instructions to students working in a lab or other hands-on setting.

  • Collaborative learning: Testing Glass and creating applications to work with the device present a wide variety of learning opportunities for faculty and students at Virginia Tech. For example, the VT Glass Explorers group is a community specifically dedicated to sharing information and collaboratively working on Glass-related projects. Virginia Tech’s Autonomous Mastery Prototyping (AMP) Lab, which is largely student-run, is using Glass to learn more about app development and is planning to explore opportunities like enabling 3d printing from Glass. Glass is also useful for quickly obtaining and sharing information with others.

Evaluation and Assessment

  • Student learning outcomes: Glass can be used in situations where it is difficult to observe student behavior. For example, problem based learning and active learning (flipped) classrooms often require students to work in teams. Given the number of teams working simultaneously in large classroom settings it is difficult to observe each one long enough to see the arc of their interaction. Students working in groups can wear and use Glass to record what has been going on for self-evaluation and instructor review. In another example, students can use Glass to do field work that is later shared with the class for dissection, discussion, and shared learning.

  • Detailed feedback: Glass videos can provide students with detailed and individualized feedback on their work, as demonstrated by Dr. Ralph Hall’s work with students in his undergraduate Sustainability Seminar in 2013. Students joined a private Google+ community for the course where they participated in online discussions (in addition to their normal in-class interactions), accessed course materials via a materials folder housed on Google Drive, and received in-depth recorded feedback on their assignments from Dr. Hall. The depth of feedback enabled by the use of Glass was supported by the experiences of other faculty who have used audio recording or other recording devices for giving feedback. In addition to instructor-provided feedback, a broader application of Glass might be for students to ask questions, request help, or provide feedback on their learning to instructors.

Research and problem-solving:

  • Gathering data: Glass has the potential to be useful to researchers who need to take a series of topographic, location-based, or other real-world readings. Team members outfitted with Glass could be used to take “swarm measurements” with real-time feeds sent back to the base site to enable more rapid data collection and analysis

  • Problem-solving: Glass is very useful in noisy environments for reference and troubleshooting. For example, it was used as a communications utility to help resolve an issue in a datacenter. Using a Google+ Hangout, the bone conductive audio allowed for a Google+ Hangout with a remote participant in an extremely noisy environment. The remote attendee was able to see first-hand what was going on in the datacenter and quickly resolved a technology problem.

What are the Downsides?

General functionality

As a device that is still in active development, Glass has a full range of technology limitations and features that are in flux. Google has been releasing near monthly updates of the Glass software (labeled as XE releases), but is now working on catching-up the Android software of Glass to Android 4.4 (Kit Kat).Testers found that Glass controls did not always work as expected or intended, which often meant that a learning curve was necessary to become accustomed to the device. Glass also lacks key functionalities that limit its current efficacy. For example, it cannot connect to wireless networks that require more than a basic network ID and password without customized application development and must be tethered to a smartphone to obtain Internet connectivity when wireless is not available. It requires a computer or smartphone for activation, as well, so the device is not truly standalone in a meaningful sense and does not yet integrate naturally with other smart devices. The battery life of Glass also needs significant improvement – explorers in this test group had to recharge frequently and had trouble with the device overheating. Commands cannot be canceled once executed. Additionally, alternative digital video and audio recording technologies, such as products made by GoPro Inc., are more rugged, portable, and cost effective. At $1,500 to participate in the Explorer Program, Glass is expensive and overly fragile. This does not include frames or prescription lenses for those who wear regular eyeglasses. At present, Glass is only offered for right eye, and is therefore not accessible to those with right eye challenges.


Privacy and security are an ongoing concern with all smart devices. Glass in particular raised privacy concerns in three major areas for our testing team:

  1. Glass’ Bluetooth security is not strong. There is an appreciable possibility that a third party would be able to steal data or modify existing Glass data (e.g., alter a recorded Glass video). At present, Glass would therefore not be suitable for high-security work.

  2. Because the Glass controls are not very granular and there is no cancel function, information can easily go to the wrong person.

  3. With Glass’ “wink” setting up for taking pictures and general low-profile, it is easy to take a picture, video, or other recording of other individuals without their knowledge.


Glass requires a learning curve, not only for Glass users but for those with whom they interact. While this may be ameliorated by greater time and experience with smart devices in general, some of the issues encountered included:

  • Difficulties connecting individual students with a Google+ Community created for a particular course. Many students are unfamiliar with the Google+ environment, making it problematic to use as a tool for teaching and learning.

  • The form factor is distracting to those not familiar with the device and the first days using Glass can result in eye fatigue.

  • Recording video can be unnatural. For interviews, the person wearing the device has to very close to the interviewee in order to pick up sound. The device picks up subtle head movements requiring the wearer to keep his/her head still.

Where is it Going (at Virginia Tech)DSC02841.JPG

Glass presents a variety of eventual/hypothetical opportunities for teaching, learning, research, and administration at Virginia Tech. However, at present the device has relatively limited utility unless Explorers code their own apps and are willing to put legwork in to get it up and running. We anticipate this will change over time, but for widespread usage Glass needs an increase in durability and overall functionality, better integration with other smart devices, a decrease in price, wider availability of apps and functions, and must address some of the privacy concerns described in this paper. Glass has exciting potential, and this should not discourage those who want to help Glass get to the next level. If you are interested in learning more about our testing experiences, or would like to get in touch with the VT Glass Explorers group, please reach out to us at tlos_techteams@vt.edu!

 * Format based on the ELI “7 Things You Should Know About” series

* Glass Tech Team and Authors: Daniel Crawford, Justin Davenport, James Dustin, Claire Gilbert, Karen Gray, Ralph Hall, Eric Hahn, Deyu Hu, David Kniola, Spencer Lee, Conor Patrick, Jennifer Sparrow, Jacob Yacovelli,