Body Worn Computers

As my research journey has brought into my cognisance, to better understand the world we must first be awake to the many and varied ways in which others around us adopt and adapt technologies in ways which perhaps on reflection seem logical and yet at the time seem intriguing or even ridiculous. 

When I speak of technologies I refer to those who core functioning is and has been integrally made functional in a digital context. In mid 2005 whilst at an Australian Vocational Training Sector (VET) conference called the Pilbara Flexible Learning Network (FLAN) in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia I happened to speak to a inventor and automotive trades lecturer, Geoff Lubich regarding his ideas as to the future for skills acquisition, task assessment and recognised prior learning (RPL) evidence capture. 

Geoff detailed how he had invented what he believed to be the first body worn camera device in Australia that could not only capture what the wearer was seeing but also to replay via a mini DVR recorder that was attached via the wearer's belt or pocket. As an educational technologist this was of great interest and so I organised a time to meet him at his mechanical workshops in Karratha, Western Australia soon after the event. I was intrigued to find him engaging with his students using technologies in a very DIY fashion, bluetooth innovation at its best. 

He demonstrated a range of devices that he had constructed using mini digital video (DV) recorders which he had then managed to pair with a rudimentary web camera by cable, the DV recorder in the users pocket and the camera glued to the bridge of the nose point on a pair of safety work eyeglasses. I recall thinking at the time that if a learner could demonstrate a physical activity that was assessable they could do so with the aide of a body worn camera, that it was a tool worth investigating and that it had great potential from a pedagogical perspective.

Geoff was demonstrating physical skills in a trades workshop context, then returning to the classroom setting with digital data that he had captured in a first-person perspective (point-of-view) via head worn cameras that were connected to mini digital video recorders and using the resultant recorded video in a formal demonstration learning context, replaying the video via smart boards or via a digital video projector. I thought the idea novel and with his permission I started sharing his ideas and concepts with a larger network of educators via an online Google Group known as Teach and Learn Online (TALO). 

The concept of the use of technology in an educational context to capture, replay, store, retrieve and use for assessment appealed to my own interests due to my background in learning systems design, development and implementation. I recall in my mind thinking

“…here was a way in which a skilled tradesperson can impart their knowledge in a first-hand way, from the perspective of the person who is undertaking the task or demonstrating that skill...how cool." 

The concept, the innovation and the creative ways in which this digital data was created seemed totally logical as the wearer has the ability to remain hands free, mobile and largely agile in that setting, is able to at their own volition record that which they are doing from the perspective of what it is that they are interacting with visually and to add voice tags or dialogue as they undertake the task. Upon return to the office or classroom setting they are then able to access, download, store, retrieve, replay and sort  by date of capture a bank of valuable data in a variety of multi-media formats. 

In many ways what appealed to me as an educator in late 2005 was the manner in which point-of-view (POV) technologies could capture what would have in the past otherwise been a cinematic film performance, largely from a viewers perspective requiring the learner to cognitively “reverse” the demonstrated skill in their field of view in order to eventually attain it. 

For example, when the subject is within the field of view of the camera they are providing a visual example of something occurring which the viewer then needs to in their mind, reverse around (in their minds eye) to be undertaking the skills itself. Largely this skill acquisition is either experiential (DIY and hands on) or it is virtual, the steps taken to undertake a task described in text, images, virtual reality. 

The advantages are obvious when you consider for instance an Electrical Lineworker up a power pole undertaking a series of tasks that only they can achieve from that location due to space constraints or industrial occupational health and safety requirements that restrict that occupational role to a single occupant activity. The same advantage of seeing skills imparted from the first person point of view could be seen also with that of a bricklayer, a doctor or any role where the hands and proximal skill to be used to complete a task are largely learned only by physical demonstration. 

What was demonstrated to me in my case was a mechanic changing a key component part on a car in a confined location, lying on their back using tools to manipulate car components. On that mechanics head either attached to a whole of skull head strap or a helmet, was a camera unit (low resolution web camera) hard wired to mini-DVR recorder / player with a sizeable flash memory card (SDHC). The camera was activated by the wearer prior to undertaking the tasks and upon completion the wearer could rename the recorded file on the DVR recorder for later recall, creating a menu of digital videos unedited which in this context is known as digital learning resources.

The videos were data stamped, EXIF encoded and the location could be hard coded into the film as a single point, essentially the first workings of location based services (LBS). The video recorder at that point appeared to be more like a body worn computer as it also allowed for video to be renamed, folders created for sorting and it was able to be connect to software via a USB port.It was around this time that Geoff and I decided to collaborate and investigate an array of technologies being produced across many differing manufacturing bases for sport, health, industry available for acquisition and use without any known restrictions in Australia.  

We conjointly tested these technologies, wrote short papers and presented at conferences and industry events with a focus on recognised prior learning (RPL) evidence creation using body worn camera technologies. I noted that with our collaborative engagement we soon had a range of fellow educational technologists inquiring as to how they also could learn more of this innovation we championed particularly when working with ‘disengaged learners’. The term ‘point-of-view’ was coined by Geoff Lubich and was soon used across the entire education sector.

The paradox that I sensed in late 2005 was that as educators and students carrying mobile phones all day long besieged by “etiquette” signs, there we were testing body worn camera technology, capturing video from many locations and activities without any recourse nor oversight from campus management. Our premise for engaging with students in these settings we defended philosophically with that of connectivism [ insert George Siemens ref ] whereby students who relied heavily on mobile messaging for all kinds of communication transactions were reprimanded for using them in class and of course chose to preference the technology over the didactic manner in which knowledge gathering and skills acquisition occurred in those traditional learning settings.

Both Geoff and I agreed that the issue was not that the learners were disengaged rather, it was the onset of new technologies such as the mobile phone that was disrupting what had been for decades a lock-step paper pushing activity where learners attempted to emulate skills by doing and then learn theory to reinforce a skill mainly to show that they were in some way quantifiably compliant. 

"...It is important to note that many vocational and onsite industry action research projects using body worn cameras and body worn video at that time were conducted without any ethics assessment, ethics clearances nor in some cases management approvals."

Shortly after meeting Geoff Lubich I was invited to conduct presentations at the Centre for Learning Innovations (CLI) in Strathfield, Sydney Australia. My presentations were predominantly a future predictions of the workforce rhetoric and I found myself then deeply enmeshed amongst workforce development projects across the national Vocational Education and Training sector (VET.) I also found myself working with information systems architects and contributing to the information systems of the Technology Enabled Learning & Teaching Platform for TAFE NSW.

Figure: TAFE NSW - Department of Education, NSW

Figure: TAFE NSW - Department of Education, NSW