Glynis Board Published

WVU students exploring the world through others’ perspectives—Literally.


Google Glass. It’s a new computer right out of a James Bond film or a science fiction novel. You wear it like you would wear glasses, but you peer at the world with technologically reinforced eyes.

Like Iron Man.

…Without the suit.

Maybe the suit will come next, but, in the meantime Google Glass is being tested by thousands of people including students at West Virginia University. Professor Mary Kay McFarland got wind that Google was looking for ‘Glass Explorers’ and now she’s incorporated the technology into her class.

What Iron Man Sees

McFarland explains that basically, you’re wirelessly tethered to your smartphone. So instead of burying your head in your lap, you can walk around—head held high, taking pictures, rolling video, text messaging, calling someone, sharing what you see-live, getting directions-and following them, and of course, you look up whatever you want online—and all with voice commands or with a flick, tap, or nod.

“So it’s really responsive to questions like, ‘Do I need a sweater today?’ It’ll give you the weather. They’ve sort of thought about making mental leaps. You might say, ‘Ok, Glass, I’m hungry.’ And it’ll just list all the restaurants in the area.”

McFarland also points out that the design is fairly intelligent—the screen that you look through which projects whatever you’re looking at on the world in front of you, hovers just above your eyebrow so as not to actually obstruct your vision.

Testing, testing 1, 2, 3, 4… 8,000

McFarland is one of about 8,000 so-called ‘Glass Explorers’ who responded to a call for tweeted proposals to test the device.

Mary Kay McFarland made this proposal: It's not WHAT you said, it's HOW you said it. –  Couples get counseling to understand the other's perspective. What if you could see it? I would use Glass to make documentary video about the misunderstandings in relationships resulting from unconscious body language, choice of phrase and tone of voice.

She explains that once chosen, testers had to go to NY, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, to one of the Google offices, to pick the devices  up and get an explanation of how to use them. So off she went to New York.

“It was very simple ass I was just playing with them, to take pictures of the people who were sleeping across the airplane aisle or in the waiting area. And I thought, you know, if you had a camera out here it would be very obvious what you were doing, people would shy away or say, ‘I don’t want my picture taken.’ But it just looks like I’m fiddling with my glasses.”

Enter Elephant in the Room

“It just changes the complexion of life on the street if you can be being filmed all the time, without your knowledge, and have pictures taken of you without your knowledge. So I think most people are excited about the Glass, because they think, ‘Oh, it would be like wearing a computer around; I can just ask it questions and get answers.’ And that is absolutely true, but what they haven’t considered all the implications of privacy and that something that records and then uploads directly to Google who has the capacity to do facial recognition… ”

These are ideas that McFarland is introducing along with the device in her journalism classes at West Virginia University.

“This is not a new issue, however the technology makes the invasion of privacy possible on levels that it probably wasn’t before.”


But McFarland is embracing the technology nonetheless and students are eager to do the same. She’s asking students to come up with journalism and documentary projects where, instead of recording their subjects, they record their subject’s point of view.

“One student in my multimedia reporting class is in the WVU marching band—the Pride of WV—he actually used them to tell the story of Game Day from the band’s perspective as they go out on the field and what they see from the field, how the formations look.”

McFarland also points to examples like a student who wants to explore the effects of sequestration on Head Start, and a student who is interested in the implications of possible marijuana legislation in the state.

“In those stories they’ll have to find the people for whom those issues matter. And then we can talk about the implications of actually seeing life through the eyes of the people who are living through those issues.”