Lesson Plan: Wearable Tech and Metadata

The lesson is a simple means to introduce the importance of Wearable Technology into the classroom … without the need to buy Wearable Tech! Instead, students use a wearable technology that many already have access to: a smartphone. The lesson plan focuses on metadata: what it is, its history, and how it affects digital writing. But it also allows for more traditional means of instruction, by assigning articles and giving a short (15 minute) lecture. The reading material suggested for this lesson can be all or any of those listed below:
1. Is bigger better? The emergence of big data as a tool for international development policy. Taylor, Linnet and Ralph Schroeder (2015)
2. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Greenwald, Glenn (2015). (Intro included as PDF above.)
3. Pervasive Citizenship through #SenseCommons. Boyle, Casey (2016).

Learning Objectives

These modules introduce the importance of ‘metadata’ to undergraduate students. They create a necessary link between metadata and contemporary ‘Wearable Tech’. Understanding how metadata is created and used helps students realize the ramifications of its existence, including its influence on the process of digital writing.

Learning Objectives

  • Instruct students about metadata
  • Inform students about its history
  • Engage with metadata
  • Assignment Length

    One class period, but the lesson is modulated to fit into already existing lessons as the instructor wishes

  • Required Materials

    The articles listed, the link to Project ‘Seen’, a computer and smartphone

  • Skills Necessary


Access and Adaptability

The lesson is designed to help those with sight problems in mind. All of the articles have been digitized, and can be accessed here: here is the article on big data, a link to the intro of Greenwald’s book and a link to Casey Boyle’s article. These can be viewed on a computer screen or printed, and each is searchable via keywords and accessible to screen readers.

This lesson plan uses students’ own smartphones, which will typically have their own personal adaptations in place.

Assignment Description

This lesson is split into three modules, which can be taught sequentially or singly. They’re designed to take around 15 minutes apiece, meaning that all three can be taught in a single class meeting.

In the first module, students write short narratives about their journeys to class, supporting the narrative with any data available on their phones. The second module is a short lecture providing a history of metadata. In the final module, students use Project Seen to explore the link between metadata and surveillance.

Instructor Preparation

  • Read Provided Literature
  • Write Lecture
  • Review Project ‘Seen’

Student Preparation

  • Read Provided Literature

In-Class or Assignment Instructions

The lesson is split into 3 modules. Each works with the others (in 15 minute chunks), but they can be used singly, too.

Module 1, Narrative: Prompt your students to write a short story with this Q: How did you get here today? Here’s the catch: they have to prove their story by using information from their phone. Did they stop texting when they started their trip to class? Do they have a pedometer that tells them how many steps they have to take to the bus? Do they have no phone and therefore no means of validating their story? The story should be no more than a page. The point is to get them to think about phone metadata. After, ask students about their stories, focus on metadata.

Module 2, Lecture:
Give a short lecture to students covering the provided literature. The lecture need not be long, but it should give students an understanding of what metadata looked like in the past, how it changed with the introduction of computers, and what it looks like now that phones and other wearable devices are the norm today. End the lecture with a think-pair-share question: Are metadata’s use value worth personal intrusion?

Module 3, Project ‘Seen’:
Give this Project ‘Seen’ link to your students. Instruct them to open a session on their DWRL computer. Have them type words into the word processor. Those words they find redacted are words the NSA seems to track. If they have a hard time finding redacted words, use these to get them started: ‘NSA’ is redacted, but ‘nsa’ isn’t. The name “Marx” is redacted, but the name uncapitalized isn’t. Last, the word ‘manifesto’ will be redacted, but the word ‘doctrine’ will not.

Assessment Suggestions

There are two possible means of assessment: the short narrative can be used as a completion grade or as the first step toward a larger project.

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