May 12, 2014

“When students ask if this will be a permanent class, I point out that Google Glass is the latest shiny object,” said University of Southern California journalism professor Robert Hernandez, speaking on the phone to Glass Almanac about the first-of-its-kind Glass Journalism course he will teach in the Fall.

Professor Hernandez is on a mission, and Google Glass is just the latest method in his quest to change-up traditional methods of instructing the next generation.

“There are plenty of college classes where students theorize, draw sketches or think about how new technology will impact the world. But we need to produce real things. The bigger learning objective for this class is bringing smart people together to experiment, innovate and research. And build things on top of an emerging platform.”

The platform today: Google Glass.

The Instructor? A Guy Who “Gets It”

Here’s how we got here: Hernandez is a guy who “gets it.” He’s excited about what’s next and has experience putting that into practice — most recently as director of development at The Seattle Times. He has led classes at USC on topics like augmented reality and doesn’t ruffle too many feathers, so they seem to let him experiment and push the envelope. (The positive press for USC doesn’t hurt, either!)

So, at a meeting led by Glass-creator Babak Parviz, Hernandez met some engineering students who were already experimenting with Google Glass and iBeacons, and they decided to pull together a hackathon (under the auspices of an official class at USC, of course) to apply technology innovation to traditional journalism strategy.

The resulting class isn’t just for software developers and code monkeys, however.

The Students? They’re Already Meeting

Students with interests in public relations, front end web development, mobile development, user-interface design, entrepreneurial business and more have signed up for the class next fall.

They are 12 in total, with a 60/40 ratio of women to men, some international students, and only a handful of official Glass Explorers. And it’s worth mentioning the students are so excited about this class that they scheduled the first meet-up already last week to discuss the syllabus and get the housekeeping out of the way.

“Do you realize how rare that is?,” laughed Hernandez. “No student in the middle of finals wants to talk about the fall. They have other things to do. But this class wants to get together and hit the ground running next school year.”

Simply put, engaged students will make learning a priority when they see the value.

USC Glass Journalism

The Course? A New Formula For Education

A benefit and challenge of emerging technology — like Google Glass, drones, virtual reality, iBeacons, contextual computing — is that it levels the playing field between educator and student.

Courses like USC’s Glass Journalism, University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drone Journalism Lab, and even programs like the American Solar Car Challenge offer hands-on learning and exploration opportunities where passionate pupils work side-by-side with educators to tackle a problem, pursue a new way of thinking and ultimately, drive society forward. But teachers can’t exactly recycle a syllabus from last year for these classes.

“I don’t like the formula where: I’m the professor with all the knowledge, so I will talk for a few hours, give you a quiz, give you a grade and now you graduate,” said Hernandez.

“For a lot of these new areas, there is no single answer. I have no problem being wrong or having my answer bested by somebody else. With [the Glass Journalism class] it’s different because there is only one pre-requisite — that you know your craft and are coming to apply it. You come to the table with a team to apply your craft.”

Pre-reqs and majors aside, the opportunity for journalism majors to learn some code or software developers to learn strategic communication skills is a highly compelling reason to invest in post-secondary education.

Hernandez says this approach to hands-on learning better mirrors the real-world marketplace, where teams are made up of passionate people from different backgrounds who bring diverse skill-sets together to accomplish a problem. It’s almost a start-up mentality to traditional coursework. His ultimate goal is to lay the groundwork for other educators to rethink how they respond to new and emerging technology that may seem scary, stupid or faddish in the coming years.

“I’m hopeful this approach is non-threatening to other institutions that may be threatened by an approach of empowering people to use technology to improve their work,” he said. “If I can infuse academia with this approach, the students will be better off for it. I sincerely hope this isn’t seen as innovative in a couple years. For me, it’s pretty obvious this is what students want.”

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