Wearable Computing, Wearable Composing:

New Dimensions in Composition Pedagogy


We are deploying wearables as a means to envision new dimensions in composition pedagogy as we prepare students to enter the 21st century workforce, where complex technology and systems are commonplace. In this webtext we share our experience of deploying one such device—Google Glass—across composition and technical communication courses during the 2014-2015 academic year. This was a year of exploring new dimensions of presence, audience analysis and usability, multimodal composing, and student peer review. While we have identified social and technical challenges with the Glass device, we also have found students to envision citizen-engaged uses for it. These deployments inform our understanding of the rhetoric of wearables, affordances of technology, and critical analysis of technological adoption and societal change. Given the emergence of more cost-effective wearable technologies, composition instructors are well positioned to introduce wearables to students while simultaneously discovering new dimensions in pedagogy.

To begin, we trace the evolution of both composition pedagogy and technology from its analog, structural roots to its always connected present. We then introduce the Glass device and discuss its new dimension of presence. We continue with focus on the new dimensions of composition pedagogy that have evolved throughout deployments of this device across composition and technical communication courses. As scholars working at the frontier of technology, composition, and education, we have deployed wearables as a means to envision new dimensions in composition pedagogy as we prepare students to enter the 21st century workforce, where complex technology and systems are already a commonplace.


Introductory notes from authors [video]

We live in an age of always connected, smart devices; as a result, composition pedagogy abounds with scholarship on the use of social media (David Kaufer, Ananda Gunawardena, Aaron Tan, & Alexander Cheek, 2011; Gina Maranto & Matthew Barton, 2010), text messaging (Scott Warnock, 2011), and what “counts” as writing in the age of Web 2.0. Results from William Wolff’s (2013) in-depth study of Web 2.0 spaces advocates that blogs, wikis, and Twitter should be part of composition pedagogy, and in a recent examination of the writing lives of 1,366 first-year students, Jessie Moore and 10 colleagues from multiple institutions found that “students have much more fluid ways of using composing technologies than we typically acknowledge in our writing pedagogies” (2016, p. 3). Moore et al. emphasize that if composition pedagogies are intended to prepare students for future writing, “strategies for embracing the flexibility of these technologies should be a central component of writing curricula” (p.9).

We now live in an age of wearables, and composition pedagogy must further evolve our notions and understanding of teaching writing amid these new physical devices and the virtual spaces to which they connect us. In this article we share our experience of deploying the Google Glass device across composition and technical communication—undergraduate and graduate—courses during the 2014-2015 academic year. This was a year of exploring new dimensions of presence, audience analysis and usability, multimodal composing, and student peer review.

Our experience with emerging wearables began in early 2014 with an invitation message from Google: “You've been selected to join the Glass Explorer Program, a group of bold, creative individuals who want to help shape the future of Glass.” Ann Hill Duin bought a pair and started envisioning their pedagogical use. She and Joe Moses then developed a grant proposal and received funding from the College of Liberal Arts (UMN) to investigate how the Glass device “reframes” writing pedagogy and digital literacies across the curriculum. In this proposal, they wrote that “This new technology opens opportunities for reframing instructional and social interventions for writing. Voice-activated search using Google Glass enables students to interact with text, image, voice, and video during invention––with a potential for reframing technical writing process pedagogies, digital literacies, and students’ future work as communicators.” In this article we report on our deployments of the Glass device across undergraduate and graduate courses. In this collective work, we have identified multiple social and technical challenges with the device; we have found students to envision citizen-engaged uses for Glass; and we have determined that as composition instructors we are well positioned to introduce wearables to students while simultaneously discovering new dimensions in pedagogy.

While the Google Glass device has been pulled from the market, an even more expansive set of smart glasses is fast replacing it (https://pristine.io/smart-glasses/), and companies are delivering a steady stream of new wearables as a means to enhance communication and collaboration (see our compilation of wearable technologies). For the purpose of this scholarship, we define wearables as hybrid, network-enabled devices that can be worn on or in the body, that are integrated with a writer’s everyday life and movements. Wearables are not just a pair of fancy earphones or digital watches; rather, wearables take advantage of the available means of connectivity and the burgeoning interest in the “quantified self” (Roy Baumeister & John Tierney, 2012) to connect the writer or wearer as a person to their goals such as staying fit, getting information, or staying organized by supplying, extracting, aggregating, and representing data that help wearers achieve their goals.

Wearable device examples

Figure 1: Wearables market stays strong. From Contegix.com.

As scholars working at the frontier of technology, composition, and education, we have deployed wearables as a means to envision new dimensions in composition pedagogy as we prepare students to enter the 21st century workforce, where complex technology and systems are already commonplace. Our position parallels that of Moore et al. in that we are working to identify new strategies for embracing the flexibility of emerging technologies as a component of writing curricula. We begin by introducing one device--Google Glass--as a means to envision a new dimension of presence. We then focus on the new dimensions of composition pedagogy that have evolved throughout our multiple deployments of this device across composition and technical communication courses.

The Glass device

Google Glass parts display

Figure 2. What’s inside Google Glass. From Catwig.com

Wearable devices—iPod, Muse, Fitbits, GoPro, smartglasses and smartwatches—are being adopted and used in private and corporate sectors. The Glass device, a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD), displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format that can communicate with the Internet via voice commands that direct the device to perform a range of functions. Voice commands begin with “Ok, Glass.” A display appears with several additional prompts, such as "Get directions to…," "Send a message to…," "Record a video," "Take a picture," "Translate…," "or Google…," and the wearer voices one of them to activate the function.

Introduction to Google Glass [video]

We met as a team once a week throughout the year to develop and refine research directions and assist each other in deploying this device in six courses that included first-year composition, upper-level technical communication, and graduate-level courses in technical communication. In introducing this device to students, we provided instructions and also pointed students to these sites prior to their use of the devices during class time:

Students use Glass in class

Figure 3. Deploying Glass in an upper-level technical communication course.

From our deployments, we learned that Glass’s user interface requires mastering of a unique set of gestural and verbal commands, one that results in a learning curve even for a savvy tech user. Most instructional videos (such as the sites above) do not reveal the complexity in the dimensionality of Glass’s  interface. Unlike an Apple, Android, or a mainstream operating system interface, the Glass interface is layered; it features a “timeline” and a “menu” that look identical to each other. Without prior models for reference, the Glass interface is confusing to users. Thus, we created a mental map (see Figure 4) to help students visualize the relationships between the levels on the Glass interface as well as the directions and gestural commands to navigate on the interface.

As shown in the figure below, the user first sees a welcome screen that states, “GLASS,” followed by the “home” screen, which shows the time and prompt, “Ok, Glass.” This home screen is the starting point of the “timeline.”

The timeline is the main user interface that is exposed to users and is comprised of 640 × 360 pixel cards. It provides many features such as a standard way to present live and static cards, system-wide voice commands, and a common way to launch Glassware (“User Interface”).

Scrolling on the timeline allows the user to see the different sections of cards, divided into the Settings card (Battery and Network setup), Present/Future cards (scrolling toward the Settings card), and Past cards (scrolling away from the Settings card).

Google Glass navigation map

Figure 4. A mapping of Google Glass’s operating system interface and gestural commands.

To access menu items, the user taps or swipes the device touchpad located on the right temple, or by commanding, “Ok, Glass.” Selections are activated by tapping when the desired action is shown, such as “reply all,” “read aloud,” and “share.” Returning to the previous level can be done by swiping downward.

Google Glass cards on the Glass viewing screen

Figure 5. Google Glass cards appear on the Glass viewing screen. Users scroll through cards by swiping a touchpad near the user's temple. From Google Developers.

Similar to Teddi Fishman and Kathleen Blake Yancey’s (2009) description of the “tethered wireless environment,” for wearables to work, they also require certain physical proximities—a wireless connection and/or a personal hotspot on a smartphone. While the wearing of a Glass device creates close proximity of connectivity and human mind, such proximity at times interferes with other proximities such as those with whom one is conversing or working. As a means to better understand proximity, we begin with discussion of of presence.

Indices of presence: The real, the virtual, the wearable

In this section, Joe Moses discusses three spaces of social presence: the real, the virtual, and the wearable, by exploring of presence--signs that imply or visually indicate presence as perceived or experienced by individuals (Stephen Levinson, 1986, p. 57). For example, eye contact is an index of presence because it visually indicates an individual's cognitive and social engagement with another. Presence may be established by directing gaze and voice to a proximal other, and presence may be experienced at a distance as when two or more persons occupy the same space even at such a distance that no expectation of engagement is implied or expected.

In the first space of social presence we examine, presence is experienced as real, unmediated interpersonal interaction. John Short, Ederyn Williams, and Bruce Christie defined social presence as “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships” (1976, p. 65). Real presence refers to social face-to-face encounters between individuals. Both salience and and its measurement by degree are important characteristics of presence for this analysis.

A second space of social presence is virtual. Charlotte Gunawardena (1995) defines virtual presence as “the degree to which a person is perceived as a ‘real person’ in mediated communication” (p. 151). Whether social presence is real or in a mediating environment such as an online class discussion, it is most accurately measured by degree. Social presence may be slight and transitory or it may be fully engaged and persistent. Moreover, the introduction of virtual spaces demonstrates that feelings of presence do not always take two persons. Although a virtual space may be designed to foster a sense of social presences among persons, one person alone may also feel a degree of engagement with a virtual environment and its lighting, setting, structure, and responsiveness to human presence.

Wearable technologies with abilities to create mobile intersections of information consumption and production, such as Google Glass, create a third space for constructions of social presence, and they do so in ways that complicate the boundaries between the virtual and the real. As such they raise questions about fundamental communication concepts--rhetorical situation, for this discussion--and how to prepare students for their responsible application of the technologies.

Real presence: Face-to-face experience

A face-to-face encounter is no guarantee that social presence has been achieved or that it will be sustained. Being seen or heard is a start, but maintaining prominent attention is necessary to maintaining social presence. As other researchers have pointed out, “social presence is not [only] a physical fact but a psychological one” (Frank Biocca, Chad Harms, & Judee Burgoon, 2003, p. 462). For example, in a comparison of presence experienced in real versus virtual office environments, respondents to a survey gave reasons for feeling present while inhabiting a real office space that are both relational and transient (Martin Usoh, Ernest Catena, Sima Arman, & Mel Slater, 2000, p. 499). Table 1 from Usoh et al.’s work includes participants’ descriptions of presence and experiential categories of presence inferable from the descriptions. Note that social presence is not absolute; presence is measured by degree.

Table 1. Participant descriptions of presence (Usoh et al., 2000, p. 499).

Descriptions of presence, real environment Salience Index: Real
The office being similar to another one in which the subject had previously worked. Presence is indexed in familiar spacial structures.
Sounds such as people talking on the phone. Presence is indexed as voice.
Visual cues such as computers and paper clips Presence is indexed in familiar objects.
Natural lighting. Presence is indexed in light.
Other people’s reaction to his presence gave a greater sense of being in the office space. ‘‘It made you aware of your own presence in a way.’’ Presence is indexed in voice and facial reaction.
Being given the task of having to look for something in the office. Presence is indexed as being engaged by another in goal-driven activity.
The layout, the way that the individual desks and PCs were arranged. Presence is indexed as spatial relationship.
Heightened sensitivity caused by being in a new environment. Presence is indexed as emotional and physical sensitivity to the new.
‘‘Only felt very much in the office when someone turned and asked if they could help.’’ Presence is indexed as engagement by another person in the environment.
Virtual presence

In virtual environments (VE), a user's experience of presence increases as awareness of the virtual nature of the experience decreases. In their study, Usoh et al. (2000) outline variables that impact presence in virtual environments. Those variables are included in the first column of Table 2, below. of presence in virtual environments are included in the second column.

Table 2. Presence in virtual environments (Usoh et al., 2000, p. 499).

Descriptions of presence in a virtual environment Salience Index: Virtual
Consistency of the displayed environment across all sensory modalities. Presence is indexed as consistent sensory correlations across senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Example: Kinesthetic communication and haptic technologies provide tactile feedback to the user.
The possibility of the individual being able to navigate through—and interact with—objects in the environment, including interaction with other actors who may spontaneously react to the individual. Presence is indexed as interactivity, engagement with and by other actors and objects. Example: a virtual self prevented from walking through a virtual desk or wall in a virtual environment.
The individual’s virtual body, their self-representation within the environment, should be similar in appearance or functionality to the individual’s own body, and respond appropriately to the movements of their head, eyes, and limbs. Presence is indexed in gestures and responses.
The connection between an individual’s actions and the effects of those actions should be simple enough for the individual to quickly learn. Presence is indexed in familiar cause/effect relationships.
Wearable presence

The Glass device carries with it the emergence of a third space of wearable presence characterized by an especially tenuous, tentative connection between the wearer and others. By being located above the right eye—not in front of it—Google Glass enables the wearer to have direct eye contact with real others, thus facilitating real presence. The proximity of Glass’s microscreen and camera lens to the right eye, however, simultaneously disrupts presence by interposing a third eye of a sort that is an ever-present distraction to the wearer and proximal others. Glass’s eye-proximal design disrupts real social presence whether the device is recording, transmitting or receiving information. The effect is intensified when the wearer speaks to, watches, reads from, or listens to the device. This mobile intersection of information production and consumption makes it something of a wearable third person whose presence is indexed by Glass itself.

Unlike other technologies such as tablet computers, Glass requires wearers to attempt unusual coordination of physical and cognitive energy. Glass’s location on the face produces new expressions of one-eyed engagement, of tentative attention, of attentive distraction—while producing in those co-present a perception that the user is preoccupied not only with the device but with the self. In some scenarios the wearer may seem to be engaged with a distant third person.

The Glass device indexes tentative, distracted, selfish attention whether wearers activate Glass functions with voice commands or by making a hand gesture--fingertip to right temple where the touchpad is located. The gesture complicates the rhetorical situation by activating the device while simultaneously suggesting that deep concentration is underway. At such moments, the wearer’s gaze is oddly fixed, the right eye focused on Glass’s micro-screen and left eye gazing past the screen into space . At such times, the wearer has entered a hybrid space in which real presence is suspended and virtual presence is enabled.

using Google Glass in class

Figure 6. Deploying Glass in a technical communication course. The design of Glass disrupts presence by locating the camera and touchpad near the right temple.

At the same time, Glass’s connectivity enables virtual presence among distant others by transmitting images and video from the wearer’s first-person point of view. Glass’s proximity to the right eye, however, also enables the wearer to leave real space and enter a virtual space with a shift of gaze. While Glass’s connectivity enables sharing with distant others, the Glass interface disconnects the user from the social present. The wearer cannot maintain full engagement because the Glass wearer’s left eye cannot engage others autonomously while the right eye engages the device’s micro-screen. Therefore, in the case of Glass, wearables erase the boundaries of setting and purpose on which authors and audience rely to constrain meanings of the information they exchange.

Differences in the nature of information exchange when comparing social presence and wearable presence are comparable to differences in the nature of information illustrated in the next two figures. In Maxell's "Blown-away Guy" the sound’s fidelity to the force of the original performance is indexed by the position of lampshade, lamp-switch chain, hair, glasses, tie, gripping fingers, planted feet, and tipping cocktail glass. The force is activated by, according to the ad, qualities of the Maxell analog recording tape named in the ad copy: “After 500 plays our high fidelity tape still delivers high fidelity.”

maxell blown-away guy

Figure 7: Maxell’s Blown-away Guy ad indexes sound fidelity as wind energy. Maxell (1979).

Wearable computing, in the instance of Glass, complicates our experience of presence in ways illustrated in the next image. The photo juxtaposes the screencast function of Glass with data from a Glass app for emotion-recognition from a company called Emotient. What the wearer sees on the microscreen of her Glass device is also projected on the computer screen behind her. The screencast is paired with data generated by the Emotient app whose function is “emotion detection and sentiment analysis based on facial expressions” (“About Emotient: attention, engagement, emotion,” 2015). The app works by scanning faces for cues that point to of sentiment. In the photo, a speaker, in the person of the woman wearing Glass, addresses an audience in the form of a real man facing the woman. That real man also takes virtual form in the screencast behind her. Next to the virtual man on the screen, the app measures the real man’s levels of attention, engagement, and sentiment. How shall we orient students to rhetorical situations in which audiences are present and transmitted? Shall we instruct our students to captivate audiences or to capture them in data streams? Shall we teach audience analysis or audience analytics?

emotient testing Google Glass with its app

Figure 8. The Emotient app for Google Glass interprets mood from emotion-recognition data (Emotient, 2015).

Carolyn Miller (2014) points out that one of the first daugerrotype images ever created, in 1839, was a selfie, which may mean our photographic impulses have always been autobiographical. Our experience with Glass suggests that the early photographer may also have been interested in safety, security, and privacy as he practiced with the new technology. Technologies of all kinds across the ages raise ethical concerns and fears in part because their release precedes understanding of their social impact. Hostile reactions to Glass wearers occurred in the first days of its release when people imagined they were being filmed or photographed and recorded and archived remotely as data points (Joe Vasquez, 2014). This Emotient example can be said to justify their fears.

Audience through a lens of wearable presence

To examine audience through a lens of wearable presence, we share how students in a project management course explored uses for Google Glass by imagining ways the device could be used for an information-development project. As information developers, their job was to gain a deep  understanding of product or service users of their choice. How might they imagine using Google Glass to develop information for their organization, including product management, system installers, trainers, and telephone support? Product managers and product development teams, for example, need information that supports product design. How might Glass be used to determine features a product should have? How should future products be designed? Those who install and service products and those who provide consulting assistance directly to customers need information about customers’ locations. How might Glass be used to learn where a product will be used--or where users will be when they’re reading information about a product?

Students were asked to create five scenarios in which Google Glass could be used for gathering information about users of a product or service by using the following affordances of Glass:

Video recording
Searching  the web
Still photography
Audio recording
Sending a text
Providing directions

Taking notes
Translating voice to text
Making a phone call
Getting directions
Listening to messages
Tracking movement


Student responses point to several ways in which measures of social presence can add value to discussions about audience. The Salience Index, Wearables column includes key themes from student work in which of presence enrich the concept of audience.

Table 3. Student Google Glass scenarios and of presence.

Student Google Glass Scenarios Salience Index: Wearable

Ways in which individuals measure presence in wearable environments.
In regards to [a campus museum], Google Glass can assist research by recording guests as they travel around the museum. The recording of guests can provide information about which exhibits draw the most attention to emphasize them when marketing. Presence indexed as desire.
A program could be made to use GPS to show the guest’s movements through the museum on a map to reveal patterns. Presence indexed as duration, path, gaze.
With so many student groups at the [institution], students do not always know of events on campus. Google glass could be used to sort activities and events. I could ask questions like, “What events are happening in the next hour?” and “How far am I from this event?” Google Glass could also notify me as I walk past events. Presence indexed as intersections of time, space, and intention.

Notwithstanding the ethical issues attached to affordances of the Glass device and apps such as Emotient, the rhetorical concept of audience is complicated by the effects that technology has on presence. Studies of online presence and technology’s roles in mediating real and virtual presence have a a great deal to tell us about audience engagement and how audiences engage, the tenuousness of attention and how to measure it, and the cognitive relationships that information sharers have with their audiences—all with consequences for ways we construct and present concepts of audience to our students. As with the mobile devices we already carry, but with their ever greater interoperability and ubiquity, wearables pose important questions about the knowledge most worth having.

Three Glass deployments

Our understanding of presence along with how we communicate the experience of using wearables will prime how receptive and/or rejective students are to these norm-shifting devices. Isabel Pedersen (2013), in her recent work, Ready to Wear: A Rhetoric of Wearable Computers and Reality-Shifting Media, writes that “The language surrounding the emergence, however, structures us as much as we structure these inventions” (p.3). She argues that

The emergence of inventions, rather than the culmination of them, acts rhetorically upon us just as we drive them forward. The means through which we are convinced to embrace future reality-shifting inventions today both shapes and orients us to them; nevertheless, these means also shape the invention itself. Invisibility serves as a great, far future exemplar for device-driven, wearable, reality-shifting media because it currently undergoes its emergence through rhetorical processes. Through their long process of invention, these new media enter the ring and (re)constitute ‘our ways of knowing and acting in the world’ (Stillar 61), which, ultimately, (re)defines us as social agents (pp.1-2).

Pedersen draws attention to the interdependent relationship between technology and communication; how we discuss a device influences how the device is perceived and used, and how we use and perceive a device influences how we discuss the device. Our discussions of deployments of the Glass device illustrate this interdependent relationship. For detailed descriptions of these assignments, see Jason Tham, Megan McGrath, Ann Hill Duin, and Joseph Moses (2016).

A) New dimensions in audience analysis and usability

During Spring 2015, Megan McGrath asked her advanced first-year writing students to explore Google Glass and communicate its particular user experience to others. To scaffold the process, students first examined Glass in light of the recent press on its perceived shortcomings. Students were asked to find two-four resources on Glass and to analyze the relationship depicted in these articles between the wearable technology, people, and communication/interaction. Glass was deployed over two 75-minute class periods: the first period involved students navigating the technology for the first time and determining its uses, based on the affordances the students discovered through trial and error. On the second day, students formed groups to decide how they would communicate the experience of using Glass to three different personae: a product developer, their instructor, and a grandparent. These personae were chosen based on the varying levels of familiarity that each would presumably have with a technology like Glass, and the unique challenges that each persona would pose based on the mindsets and experiences implicated in these levels of familiarity. The three personae were also selected based on the potential for stereotypes to emerge when considering each persona’s proficiency with technology. The goal was to get students to acknowledge and think beyond these stereotypes, because audience analysis can easily devolve into pigeonholing people.

Fundamentally, having students create answers responding to the question, “What is it like to use Google Glass?” took students to the meta level of audience analysis by encouraging them to think about how communication choices influence the way that technology is perceived and operationalized by real people, in real time—and how these choices can ultimately make or break a technology’s uses and lifespan. In the process, students were made to consider both the possibilities and roadblocks that technology creates, the conceptual models that users bring to unfamiliar technologies, and the role that specific word and framing choices make in erecting and removing roadblocks. Many roadblocks surface when assumptions guide how users are anticipated and accommodated. This exercise had students think about the assumptions that they had regarding users and how these assumptions were complicated through student engagement with Glass.

Technology is a topic where caricatures of users and their presumed proficiency levels can abound (e.g., the younger the user, the more tech-savvy they will be). However, because these students were fresh off of their own disorienting experiences of figuring out Glass, Megan found that the students were acutely focused on the needs, values, attitudes, and goals that they brought to this particular interface—and of how these needs, values, attitudes, and goals were disrupted, in the process. Most striking, perhaps, was how the experience of just having oriented themselves with an augmented reality-based device was a heavily-invoked resource that forced students to consider, and be more sensitive to, the complexities embedded in technology use, and the deeply personal nature of the wearer’s experience. Experience as a catalyst to sensitivity and complexity was particularly evident in students’ hesitance to describe Glass as a “personal assistant,” a term that commonly surfaces when referring to a technology’s capabilities. One student insisted that “If we’re going to call it a ‘personal assistant,’ we need to emphasize that it’s an inconsistent one, because sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t...you never quite know what you’re going to get, so we need to convey that element of chance.” In this case, the student was referring to the spotty voice recognition software and issues with connecting to certain double-encrypted networks. This group decided that describing Glass as “having a child intern” captured the device’s idiosyncratic, uncertain success rate.

This example illustrates how referring to a technology based on what it is—in this case, a wearable computer—may not be sufficient in orienting people to what the technology does. In fact, referring to Glass as a "wearable computer" might, in some cases, be more of a hindrance than a help (Donald Norman, 2002; John Rubin, 1996). When Google Glass is framed as a “wearable computer,” the user expects a computer interface and to draw upon their acquired computer skills to operate the device. Having students think about the conceptual models that the words “wearable computer” trigger, and how little the students actually borrowed from their experience with computers, made students particularly attuned to just how much power certain words can have at conjuring up certain images and learning mechanisms when people are trying to navigate an unfamiliar situation. For example, two groups of students believed that the words “wearable computer” would mislead grandparents, especially, since Glass’ actual interface does not mimic a computer. There is no keyboard, and the device relies heavily on verbal commands. Therefore, one group decided that describing Glass as “a wearable projector that you control through speech” would accurately capture the user experience by drawing on a learning-based technology that would be more familiar to grandparents than a computer, as well as by accentuating Glass’ verbal command-driven interface with language that is less obtuse and more true to the experience than “voice activated.”

What students seemed to find particularly difficult about this assignment, however, was communicating the augmented reality/immersive component of Glass to another person. A few students located Glass’ value precisely in that it creates a very individualized user experience. By centering the analysis around communicating an emerging technology, whose possibilities and limitations have yet to be fully determined, students were pushed to think about what conceptual models people would be likely to turn to for navigating this disorienting, augmented reality-based user experience. The device’s augmented reality affordance added another dimension to the audience analysis exercise by calling students to consider the complexities embedded in communicating the user experience to others with varying levels of technological expertise. One student even noted that discussions of Glass’ perceived failures seemed to be more responsible for the device’s demise than the perceived failures, themselves. For example, how—and how frequently—people discussed Glass’ limitations, such as the prominence of its camera, primed others to view this device as an intrusive instrument of surveillance, despite never having used the device or been in its presence. Thus, this exercise attuned students to how emerging technologies, to echo Pedersen (2013), “(re)define [students] as social agents” as they communicate new devices to others—and how this communication can not only “drive [inventions] forward,” but can pull them backward, as well.

Megan also deployed Google Glass in her Technical and Professional Writing course in which she asked students to envision specific scenarios in which Glass might be used to further technical communication. This deployment came during the height of Glass’ hype; students immersed themselves in this emerging technology, practicing important hallmarks of the technical communication curriculum such as usability and feasibility. For example, Megan’s students not only tested the technology’s uses; they forecasted and determined these uses. The students envisioned where, when, how, and by/for whom Glass might be used and then tested the feasibility of their visions. In the process, students gained practical experience in identifying a technology’s affordances, in analyzing the rhetoric and implications of an emerging technology, and in determining a technology’s uses based on specific needs, rather than on abstract ideals.

The findings from this deployment indicate that it is important to challenge students to pinpoint concrete communication-related needs that wearables, with their unique affordances, can address. To a certain extent, technical communicators are visionary: they must anticipate how people can and will use a technology based on its unique affordances. Having students start with concrete communication needs ensures that feasibility and usability guide the future use of wearables, rather than hype and misinformation.

Through engaging with Glass, Megan’s students discovered that this technology can enhance the technical communication field and classroom in the following ways.

  • By virtue of being worn, wearables show promise for making user manuals more realistic. For example, the camera feature on Glass provides first-person perspective and allows for a range of motion that other methods of recording do not.
  • Glass affords video conferencing opportunities through apps like Google Hangouts, which can allow students to interact and network with classmates and professionals in the field in increasingly interactive ways that minimize distance. Medical students also singled out Glass’ first-person point of view advantage when conveying the process of a different type of tying: the surgical hand tie.
  • Glass can allow students to interact and network with classmates and professionals in the field in increasingly interactive ways that minimize distance. Table 4 includes statements of how students conceived of Glass' use and worked through the pros, cons, and questions for developers.
  • Having students engage with emerging technologies allows them to experience firsthand the importance of early testing, empirical assessment, and iterative design: in other words, they unpack the distinctions between “user-friendly” and “user-centered.”

Table 4. Student conceptions of Glass use.

Scenario/Need Glass’ Use Advantages Disadvantages Questions for Developers

I want to be able to interview a professor at a different location but still be able to see what they are explaining

Used as a video calling device

Be able to see what they are doing while also talking with them without the awkward situation of trying to manage a camera.

It will allow the person I am interviewing to also view what I am doing.

Not having to use one hand to hold the camera allowing you to use both your hands

There always has to be a concern about video and audio quality.

Limited to locations where there is Wi-Fi or Phone Data

Accidentally stopping a video by making the wrong gesture

Video can only look directly in front of you. There’s no showing a person’s face for normal video calling

Will it function in the elements -- cold, rain, etc.”

How can you enter text in an area you can’t speak?


Can you reverse the camera so that your face would be visible to the other person?

These student-envisioned enhancements advance technical communication by providing increased opportunities for multimodality and interactivity, thereby facilitating the ability for documents and instructional opportunities to transcend the limits of time and space. With these opportunities comes a key question: If wearing a camera allows a technical communicator to fully simulate the experience of tying a tie, and thereby make this experience more realistic through the camera’s first-person perspective, will technical communicators defer important communication efforts to technologies that can capture these efforts more effortlessly? Or, how might technical communicators envision new uses of wearables such as the Glass device?

B) New dimensions in multimodality

In their opening to the collection, Multimodal Literacies and Emerging Genres, Tracy Bowen and Carl Whithaus (2013) argue that within our college writing courses “the emergence of a wide array of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has opened up new possibilities for the types of compositions that students can create” (p. 1). Chapters in the Bowen and Whithaus collection demonstrate that as faculty and students access and use technologies in new ways to make meaning, the “new media and new genres are not some achieved utopia for perfect learning but rather are sites where conflict and agreement, success and failure, coexist” (p. 2).

In this deployment, undergraduate and graduate students in a course titled Writing with Digital Technologies had the opportunity to envision new uses of the Glass device. Specifically, students had the opportunity to use Glass; explore its design, use, and feasibility of use in the student’s field of work; and focus on its potential impact on society. Using Glass, and later developing a multimodal composition about its design, use, and feasibility, did not result in some “achieved utopia;” rather, given the challenges both with its use and its presence, the multimodal composition assignment served as a means for students to more fully express their hopes, differences, and challenges. Here Ann Hill Duin shares details about her deployment of the Glass device, including links to multimodal blogs that students developed.

Before deployment

This was a time of hype and hope. Prior to using the devices, Ann asked students to explore and share resources of interest about the Glass device. Students shared about their excitement at exploring this new technology and how to make it work:

Google Glass shines
This LA Times article is more of a testimonial from an 18-year-old college student. I found it interesting because he brought up some real life and in-class uses for Google Glass that I could relate to and possibly use in the future.

Everything You Need to Know About Google Glass
This page is a great overview of google glass in the aspects of what is inside Google Glass, why we need Google Glass, when/where to buy Google Glass, and how Google Glass will change the future.

Students also shared information that related to their current or future work as technical communicators:

How to use Google Glass at Work
This shows how Google Glass can be used in an office setting.

Google Glass as a Hands-Free Instruction Manual
A YouTube video a Google Glass application as a hand-free manual to help people complete tasks.

They began to explore possible apps being developed for Glass and their possible futures:

5 silly apps that are available on Glass
This website is a great resource that claims to be the first directory of google glass apps. It includes some apps that might be of use in the multi-modal composition, including Glossaic (picture sharing) and Wordpress for Glass.

And they shared sites about issues including privacy, addiction, and social and technological obstacles:

  • Google Glass: is it a threat to our privacy?”: This is an interesting article that talks about the implications that come along with Google Glass and evaluate as to if it is a potential breach of our privacy. It is interesting to think about who sees what is recorded on there? Where is the memory stored? Interesting read!
  • Man in treatment for Google Glass addiction”: Another interesting and very recent article regarding Google Glass. It introduces a possibility of a very big and realistic downfall of new, wearable technologies.
  • Clever Hacks Give Google Glass Many Unintended Powers”:The application Winky uses gesture (winking) to take a picture. This article explores the ethics of the issues with social and technological obstacles with this new technology.

As noted earlier, how we discuss a device influences how the device is perceived and used, and how we use and perceive a device influences how we discuss the device (Pedersen, 2013). Prior to the three-week deployment, Ann asked students to read James Porter’s (2009) work, “Recovering delivery for digital rhetoric,” as a means to provide a common vocabulary for discussion during use of the device. Porter’s theoretical framework for “digital delivery” consists of five topics: body/identity, distribution/circulation, access/accessibility, interaction, and economics, and each topic functions “strategically and heuristically to guide digital writing” (p. 207). Porter prompts readers to “think of these as the common topics (koinoi topoi) of delivery—i.e., the categories that operate heuristically and productively across multiple situations to prompt rhetorical decisions regarding production” (p. 208).

During deployment

During deployment, Ann wrote these five topics on the whiteboard at the beginning of each session’s use of Glass. Table 5 includes the framing questions around each topic that were included on the course LMS site.

Table 5. Porter’s topics and associated framing questions for use of Glass.

Porter’s (2009) five topics

Framing questions for use of Glass

Body / identity

How do the “online representations” of the body, gestures, images inherent in [wearables] use signal a merging of the human body and technology in a new hybrid form, the cyborg? How does Google Glass further merge body with machine?

Distribution / circulation

Where does my “picture” go? How does Google Glass impact/influence options for reproducing, distributing, and circulating digital information? Do users become rhetorically smarter distributors as well as producers of discourse? How does a user’s understanding of digital literacy expand as a result of using Google Glass?

Access / accessibility

Google Glass, as an emerging technology, is cost prohibitive, but the “iwatch” may be less so. How do we articulate “audience need” for Google Glass? and How might Google Glass increase accessibility for those with disabilities?


How does Google Glass digital design affect interaction? According to Porter, “defining interactivity in terms of human interaction potential, rather than by reference to technical features, helps us imagine a broader range of human interactions with machines, systems, interfaces, and designs… The true revolution of the Internet [is] when users can critically engage what they read...when they co-produce… when the distinction between audience and writer blurs” (p. 218). How does Google Glass invite the user to become a co-producer of content, “when the activity is meaningful, when the content is engaging and compelling” (p. 218).


What about control, copyright, fair use, policy? How might Google Glass generate “value”? According to Porter, “What we have in digital writing is a different economic exchange system than in print culture. Capital resides not so much in the original texts you produce as (a) in your ability to deliver and circulate texts in ways that make them accessible and useful to others and (b) in your ability to collaborate with other, to share files, to co-create meaning in social spaces” (p. 220). How might Google Glass help users to capture, deliver, and circulate new views, new discoveries? How might Google Glass help users collaborate and co-create meaning?

While Ann would have appreciated more time to discuss Porter’s topics during class time, the deployment itself required more focus on the technicalities of the device. However, evidence of student attention to and reflection on Porter’s topics can be seen in their multimodal compositions (discussed later in this section).

As Megan shared regarding her deployment, technical communicators—in addition to serving as facilitators between producers and consumers, experts and novices, goals and deliverables—need to be visionary: they must anticipate how people can and will use a technology based on its unique affordances. Thus, Ann asked students to describe their specific professional interests related to the Glass device.

Some students chose to focus on use of the Glass device in their chosen fields of work, e.g.:

I’m interested in seeing how instructional manuals can be updated for use with Google Glass. A lot of instructions, especially technical manuals, are most frequently used by people who need both hands to repair or work on the item at hand. Google Glass could provide a way for users to read the manuals without ever having to take their eyes off the product that they are working on.

Others expressed interest in comparing Glass to other devices:

My first idea, which kind of just popped into mind the first time I watched a video about Google Glass, is comparing it to GoPro in terms of purpose, usability, and quality for first-person video and images. The second idea is to explore how Google Glass affects health. Many of us in class seemed to experience headaches or strained eyes when wearing Google Glass, and I’d be interested in researching more about Google Glass harming or helping health.

And others planned to investigate the potential use of Glass to meet unique needs:

I’m interested in exploring how Google Glass can help those with disabilities, particularly people who are visually impaired or blind. Google Glass could be used in a number of ways to augment the information a person who is blind is able to take in, beyond sound and touch. Glass could collect raw data of the visual surroundings and give that information through Google Glass, via an earbud. I would like to look into the ways wearable technologies would give greater independence to the visually impaired.

Student reflections on using and writing with Google Glass [video]

Multimodal compositions

After two class sessions to explore the use of the Glass device, students began to envision their multimodal compositions. Interestingly, the concept of a multimodal composition appeared to be more difficult for students than exploring and using the Glass device itself. Using Claire Lauer’s (2009) definitions of modes and media as way to introduce multimodality and the assignment, Ann lead a discussion on how multimodal emphasizes design and process, whereas multimedia has greater emphasis on the production of a text:

Modes can be understood as ways of representing information… Examples of modes include words, sounds, still and moving images, animation and color. Media, on the other hand, are the ‘tools and material resources’ used to produce and disseminate texts. Examples of media include books, radio, television, computers, paint brush and canvas, and human voices (Lauer, 2009, p. 227).

Ann also invited a local digital humanities specialist to share about his use of the multimodal platform, Scalar, so that students could see how multimodal compositions created using this platform provide a less linear, more interactive reading pattern that supports the media of real-world audiences. Taking on this challenge, students delved into their investigations, working to persuade their audiences by using multiple layers of sound, visuals, words, and links that communicated the hopes, differences, and challenges related to the Glass device.

A number of students chose to use the Apple iBook as the platform for development of their multimodal compositions. One focused on how Glass might be used to replace instructional and training manuals, illustrating how with Glass, the text of the instructional manual could be displayed on the screen, and the user would not need to look away to reference instructions in the manual. She also noted how Glass could help with training by providing reference materials within a gesture’s reach.

Another student generated an iBook on the use of Glass in the field of student housing, sharing how the device might assist with incident statement writing, communicating with other resident assistants, and training for the research assistant position.

A POV walkthrough of residence hall [video]

Most students chose to use blogs as platforms for their compositions. One student examined the use of Glass as a tool for the blind, exploring the concept of multimodality, its impact on society, and “how Glass, as a multimodal device, might be developed to further benefit the blind and visually impaired.”

Google Glass used by person who is blind

Figure 9. Image from student blog at http://googleglassandmultimodality.weebly.com.

All students referenced their rhetorical situations. Using the scalar platform one student explored the expanding craft of communication in her work titled “Composition for multimodal technology.” On her opening page, she emphasized that "Different devices open up an entirely different set of rhetorical situations, making writing styles of the past less effective in their new media. Technological advancements shape technology users, their communities and generations overall. Understanding these forces will help a writer understand ways to write beyond orality, and how to look at new technologies such as wearables."

Other students also used Porter’s categories as a means to analyze the influence of wearables on storytelling—

storytelling with wearables

Figure 10. Image from student blog at http://storytellingwithwearabledevices.weebly.com

and as a means to explore the future of Glass–

Glass the new face of technology

Figure 11. Image from student blog at http://brittah-springer-glass.squarespace.com/#glass-overview

Donna Reiss and Art Young (2013), in their scholarship on multimodal composing, emphasize that in the twenty-first century, our students’ experience is multimodal, and we should be committed to engage students in ways that expand their multimodal experiences. They share precepts as “vital” to their pedagogical approach:

We welcome creativity and innovation... We admit that we cannot ourselves do everything we invite our students to do... By composing in ways not available to us, some students provide us and their classmates with insights into the subject that would have been otherwise unavailable to us... We expect reflective practice where students not only present and represent their thinking and learning but also are aware of their rhetorical and design choices (p. 165-166).

In this deployment that included student development of multimodal compositions, the students engaged in writing and with other media in ways that showcased their experience with and their visioning for the Glass device. The device itself elicited multimodality.

In these deployments, we were Glass experts by mere days in comparison to the students, and some students surpassed our Glass knowledge in mere minutes through their immediate exploration of the device. Ann admitted that she could not herself (yet) use some of the platforms (e.g., Scalar) that students chose to use. Students indeed provided insights into Glass; for clear evidence, please dig into a student’s in-depth blog on the future of this device. Others provided evidence of their rhetorical and design choices; in particular, choose your own route as you explore the expanding craft of communication.

Teddi Fishman and Kathleen Blake Yancey (2009) specifically examined how wireless technologies changed notions of discussion as being orchestrated by the teacher to that of releasing such authority and finding ways to turn text messaging and email “intrusions” into class contributions (p. 40). Deploying wearables as a springboard to multimodality further releases such authority and opens a door to wearable composing. We complete our overview of deployments by sharing about new dimensions in student peer review.

C) New dimensions in student peer review

As evident in Megan and Ann’s deployments, bringing wearables into the classroom disrupts conventional writing instruction and opens opportunities for reimagining and redesigning the composing process. The classroom, hence, becomes a sandbox for students and teachers to explore and experiment new methods for learning and practicing composition, allowing ideas to take flight under a low-stakes condition.

In this section, Jason Tham charts a case for integrating Google Glass in one of the signature writing activities in the composition classroom—student peer review. Specifically, he showcases the affordances of Glass in enriching student peer review by discussing the values of added dimensions, made possible through Glass’s point-of-view (POV) video recording, in the feedback process.

Jason’s brief introduction to wearable peer review [video]

For many decades, student peer review has been a key component of the composition classroom. Rhetoric and writing specialists including Kenneth Bruffee (1973), Thom Hawkins (1976), and Peter Elbow (1973, 1981) have each explained and defended peer reviews as a way to encourage students to not only produce writing but also learning how to evaluate them as real audiences. More recently, computer and composition scholars have employed newer computer technologies such as mobile computers and online learning management systems to better facilitate student peer reviews. While the numbers and successes in many instances constitute an important argument for the implementation of computer-mediated peer reviews in the writing classroom, most of these review exercises still rely on print or written comments when constructing critiques, thus undermining the potential of extra-textural elements such as presence, emotions, and nonverbal cues in the reviewer’s feedback.

To enrich peer review—both the process and content—Glass may be used as an intervention technology that affords additional dimensions beyond the print layer. In Spring 2015, Jason integrated Glass as an essential peer review tool in his first-year composition course. Students were introduced to the device during the first week of the semester, taught how to maneuver the device and its interface, and given simulated practice before conducting the actual peer reviews for their major writing assignments.

With Glass, the focus of review is shifted from the written comments to the spoken critiques. Students employed a think-aloud protocol when reviewing their peers’ drafts. Students were asked to bring one hardcopy of their rough drafts, which was collected, randomized, and redistributed by the instructor to a different student.They were also given four to five peer review prompts (on a reviewer form) for each specific major writing assignment. When reviewing a draft, the students followed these steps:

  1. Put on Google Glass and start recording a video. Extend the recording by clicking the camera shutter button within the first 10 seconds of recording.
  2. Make sure the video recording is captured at the eye/reading level. Adjust lens as necessary.
  3. Start by announcing your name and the author’s name, something like: “I am Jason, and I am now reviewing Justin’s first major writing assignment.”
  4. Then, continue by “thinking aloud” as you review the paper. You don’t have to talk all the way through the paper, but remember to verbalize your thoughts on different parts of the paper as guided by the peer review prompts provided on the reviewer form.
  5. Fill out the reviewer form as you go. Don’t keep it until you have finished recording to fill them out.
  6. Once you are done reviewing a paper, announce that you have completed that review process: “That’s all I have for you, Justin. I have finished reviewing your essay.”
  7. Stop the video recording. Be careful not to delete the recorded video by accident. You may review your recording by using the playback option.

At the end of the review exercise, students returned the review forms and rough drafts reviewed to their respective authors. Before concluding the peer review day, students were asked to share their thoughts with their peers, resulting usually in a 10-minute face-to-face conversation. After the class period, Jason downloaded all the video recordings from the Glass devices and uploaded them to a Google Drive folder shared by the students in the class. Students were asked to review their respective videos as they revise their drafts for submission.

Students using Google Glass to review their peers’ papers [video]

As the video feedbacks were recorded from a first-person POV, student authors are allowed to see the reading of their drafts through the reviewer’s subjective angle, thus getting a personable sense of what the reviewer is experiencing when reviewing a paper. Such embodied experience has never been made possible by written comments, and we argue, could enrich student peer review. The think-aloud critiquing method enlivens the reviews produced for the writer as they are no longer just fleshless comments but rather personable feedback that takes the reviewer’s recorded presence into considerations.

In most video footages that Jason has reviewed, he found that the comments made were unscripted and intimate. In our previous sections, we have theorized wearable presence as a projection of patterns of movements, duration, and even location. Such presence augments the reading experience by adding layers of perception to peer review, namely aurality and visuality. These new dimensions strengthen the cognitive relationship between the author and the reviewer, and may allow the authors to evaluate the feedback given by their peers in the context of time and space where the reviewer made the comments because the reviewer’s presence is constructed not just by textual artifacts but by additional inputs of sound and vision.

Paired with the written comments prompted by the questions the instructor has set on the reviewer form, POV video feedback provides a much richer critique than purely written feedback and other screen-mediated peer reviews.

Student using glass during peer review

Figure 12. A student using Google Glass during peer review.

Aside from the sense of the reviewer’s presence and visibility of the reading process, POV video responses are also able to capture the reviewer’s emotion in peer reviews. Since wearable presence can also be indexed as expressions of interests and desire – willfully or not – extratextual elements such as emotions rise to the surface of the composing process and becomes an integral part of the student reviews. As an additional dimension afforded by the POV recording, emotionality draws attention to embodiment and affect in multimodal composing.

As such, peer review with wearables may contribute to a beginning theorization of the embodied and felt experience of composing with wearable technology. Watching the playback of a POV video feedback, the author might be able to tell when and how a reviewer become excited, or disengaged, judging from the varied tone and speed of reading (higher or lower pitch, faster or slower reading), or when the reviewer starts looking away or gets distracted by other activities (like clicking a pen or doodling away). Because of these affordances, writing becomes a lived experience that can be augmented, recorded, and replayed to an unprecedented level. Jason has written elsewhere to further explore such roles of gestures and emotional attributes in composition (Jason Tham, 2016).

Overall, Jason’s experiment with Google Glass in the peer review process suggests that changes in the composing process and experience are bound to happen with the proliferation of wearables in our students’ lives. Once again, we cannot ignore the wave of emerging wearables; as Moore et al. emphasize, we should embrace the flexibility of these technologies and consider their potential centrality as a component of writing curricula. As scholars working at the frontier of technology, composition, and education, we are called to build on the limited body of research and highlight a critical need for greater focus on reframing composition pedagogy and digital literacies as we prepare students to enter the 21st century workforce, where complex technology and systems are already a commonplace (Jason Tham, 2015).

Wearable computing, wearable composing

Throughout this article, we have shared about our deployment of the Glass device as a means to envision new dimensions in composition pedagogy as we prepare students to enter the 21st century workforce, where complex technology and systems are already commonplace. Our exploration of wearable presence, re-envisioning audience, documenting possibilities by means of multimodal compositions, and enriching peer review, represents but a glimpse of the opportunities available for reimagining and redesigning composition pedagogy.

Fundamentally, having students engage with wearables gives them first-hand experience with separating hype from reality. New technologies raise expectations unrealistically; the value of having students engage with emerging technologies is that they gain practical experience with understanding and navigating the gap between reality and hype productively. Through active engagement with wearables, students not only examine the interdependent relationship between technology, the communication that precedes it, and the communication that the technology inspires, but they also wear and experience this “cyborg” relationship.

With all of its affordances and conveniences, technology unsettles. As it enables new opportunities, or reinvents existing ones, technology requires shifts—some seismic, some subtle—in our attitudes, approaches, and social norms. The field of technical communication, with its acute emphasis on users, usability, and feasibility, must be particularly sensitive to the shifts required to adopt and adapt to technology. Wearables ask both instructors and students to think critically about what social norms are challenged by an emerging technology’s unique affordances, and what role technical communicators play in how challenged norms are reshaped.

Because wearable technologies challenge and reshape social norms, wearables represent a kairotic opportunity in both composition and technical communication courses to ask students and instructors alike to grapple with the uncertainty that defines 21st-century living. Uncertainty is one of the only certainties when engaging with an emerging technology, since this technology’s possibilities and limitations have yet to be determined. As a result, explorations of emerging technologies are rife with risks: instructors ultimately allow more power to reside with the students than with themselves, since precisely what these devices can do—and, therefore, how they should be used—is unknown. And these are risks that we should embrace if we truly want students to use the latest digital writing technologies in ways that do not merely impose technology on—and thereby reify—existing practices.

Especially in today’s digital, distributed age, in which change is a constant, it is ever-important for technical communication, as a field, to continually re-envision and revise itself in order to avoid obsolescence. Part of this re-envisioning and revision involves a focus on how technical communication is taught in a way that allows students to enter, lead, and thrive in today’s digital, distributed, increasingly-unsettling age. It is largely through reinventing itself that technical communication pedagogy strives to avoid obsolescence and to bridge the gap between the classroom and the world outside of it, so that the two seem interdependent, rather than dissonant.

With the increased presence of wearables in educational, workplace, and social contexts, new dimensions of “wearable composing” will evolve daily. A short time ago, in her investigation of mobile technologies and composition, Nicole Brown (2009) wrote that

Whereas metaphors of mobility—such as the nomad or frontier—help to position our work and pedagogies in sites of broad impact, wireless networks when combined with location-aware technologies ask writing teachers and researchers to consider what our roles (and our students’ roles) will be in defining both the contexts of composition around mobile technologies and the location-specific environments annotated by their use (p.240).

Among the important pedagogical insights, our deployments have also reassured us of the ever-evolving nature of technology, and that as scholars of computers and composition we need to be moving alongside, if not ahead, of emerging technologies. We know that many of today’s “essential” technologies were not at first recognized as such. The first Xerox machine, Bell’s telephone, and even IBM’s computers had no commercial market. Radical new technologies confront a great deal of uncertainty. As researchers and instructors, we can play a role in helping students confront those uncertainties. This project, in particular, has kairotically positioned us into that role. As predicted by most of the researchers and wearers of Glass, the device in its beta form was not ready for the general consumer market. Expectedly, Google halted on the manufacturing of Glass with the closing of its Explorer program in early 2015, just when our team had identified initial usage for Glass in writing instruction. The kit was ushered back into research and development under the leadership of Tony Fadell, chief executive of the home automation business Nest, which was acquired by Google in 2014 (BBC News, 2015). What this means for us, computers and writing scholars, is that we occupy the gap between invention and innovation, that we carry an advantage in preparing our students for the “next big thing” by instilling in them the critical competency of distinguishing values in technologies. By seizing any appropriate occasion to experiment and analyze new technologies in our classroom, we offer students with the unique opportunity to experience and understand emerging technologies and their effects on writing, communication, and the society.

Although Glass is no longer available to us as a viable learning tool, the lessons we learned from deploying it across writing courses were transferrable as wearable literacy in our next deployments. Since the documentation of this project, we have been introducing new wearables into our classes, with the more popular being Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift, as they also introduce the notion of virtual reality into our discussions of writing, perspective, and persuasion. Our deployments with Glass have informed our understanding of the rhetoric of wearables, affordances of technology, and critical analysis of technological adoption and societal change. As we move forward with lower-cost devices like Google Cardboard, we are transferring the imprint from our Glass experience to this year’s deployments (see detail at the Wearables Research Collaboratory).

Wearable technologies, when combined with increased levels of embodied and quantifiable presence—such as location and emotion recognition—will most certainly redefine our understanding of presence and our contexts of composition. While the work of writers will continue to involve the critical, rhetorical, and social construction of knowledge, amid the exponential growth of connectivity and wearables, composing as we once knew it—with somewhat tidy compartments of planning, drafting, reviewing, and editing—may well implode. These deployments have taught us many things; among these, that new technologies make pre-literates of us all—forcing us to rethink and envision new dimensions.


The authors thank the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts for its generous funding of the project titled “‘Reframing’ Writing Pedagogy and Digital Literacies across the CLA Curriculum,” an Academic Innovation Grants initiative. Funding provided for Glass devices and support of undergraduate research assistants.


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