While the stock market is trading near all-time highs, many investors are getting antsy, waiting…
Andy, a student at Metea Valley High School in Aurora, sits at a table loaded with supplies necessary for first aid kits.
Gloves. Antiseptic wipes. Gauze. Bandages. Ice compresses. Sting relief pads.
Methodically and steadily, the teen with intellectual disabilities collects exactly what he needs, tucks them into the plastic container and crosses them off the list.
His work is guided not by a teacher, a job coach or even the clipboard registry of items, but a video playing in his right eye thanks to the Google Glass that is worn like any other pair of glasses: Toni Van Laarhoven, a professor in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, filmed her own hands packing the kits while using the wearable device.
Following the professor’s prerecorded prompts, both audio and visual, Andy’s hand movements occasionally mirror hers while he gains – and improves – valuable vocational skills.
All three Metea Valley students who participated in the experiment showed measurable progress in their achievement, something that will enhance their appeal to employers after they graduate.
Bosses who can clearly demonstrate the jobs they need completed – whether it’s packing first aid kits, stocking grocery shelves or maintaining a restaurant’s coffee station – can save valuable time while they reap the benefits of well-trained, hard workers, Van Laarhoven says.
“So often when we’re teaching students with autism or other intellectual disabilities, we give them visuals. Now they can watch – and do – at the same time. This is something new to them,” she says.
“The video tells them to look at what’s on their list, go get it, put it in the kit and check it off,” she adds. “Once they learn the task, the video is too slow. They’re waiting. An app where they could control the video with their head would be fantastic so they could stop or speed up or rewind.”
Van Laarhoven and NIU colleague Jesse “Woody” Johnson, an associate professor, are thrilled with the early results of their project and happily imagining the tremendous possibilities.
The College of Education duo conceived the project after a Google Glass demonstration for their department conducted by Stephen Haliczer, special assistant to the vice president for information technology outreach at NIU, with the assistance of another staff member from the NIU Division of Information Technology.
“I just saw some potential there, and I was excited about using video-based instruction for people with disabilities, especially in the workplace. Some people with disabilities are limited by what they have to carry; it’s hard to use both hands,” Johnson says.
“Google Glass is a hands-free thing. It would not interfere with their ability to learn to do things, and to learn tasks, by giving them the ability to watch a video while they’re completing their tasks,” he adds. “It has enormous potential.”
For example, Van Laarhoven says, employees whose disabilities limit their social skills could wear Google Glass for video cues to “look at the person” and “say ‘thank you,’ ” she says.
Meanwhile, the hands-free capability will prove highly beneficial for those adults with intellectual disabilities who work in food service settings, Van Laarhoven says, because they can keep their hands sanitized instead of touching checklists or other mobile devices while progressing through multistep activities.
Haliczer, an NIU Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, is an enthusiastic evangelist for wearable devices. He’s involved with several campus projects, one of which is a new Wearable Technology Research Group led by Department of Mechanical Engineering Professor Abhijit Gupta.
“At my prompting, Chief Information Officer Brett Coryell agreed to acquire several wearable devices, including Google Glass and the Apple Watch, with the objective of promoting greater awareness and engagement with the wearable computing industry in the university community,” Haliczer says. “We want faculty to conduct research into these devices and what they can do.”
What Van Laarhoven and Johnson accomplished at Metea with graduate student Caylee Irving and partnering teachers Daina Hunt and Michael Ackerman is “pioneering,” he adds.
“I’m very happy,” he says. “At first, I didn’t know how it was going to work. But as soon as the kids started doing things, I had goosebumps.”
NIU’s research into possible applications of Google Glass is “entirely consistent with the company’s orientation to using the device in different work environments,” he says: The new version of Glass, called the Enterprise Edition, is designed specifically for business use.
First introduced in April 2013 to what Haliczer calls “much criticism that it was just for techno-worshiping geeks,” the product has evolved into something valuable – and NIU is a leader in finding new ways to harness its power.
“This is just the beginning,” he says. “Our goal is to engage with Google, Apple and Microsoft on an ongoing basis.”
Mark McGowan, NIU Media and Public Relations