Cornell Music Professor Becomes ‘Google Glass Explorer’

October 24, 2013 12:04 am0 comments


For the last couple months, Prof. Cynthia Johnston Turner, music, has sported a $1,500 accessory everywhere from GreenStar Cooperative Market to Lincoln Hall: Google Glass.

The professor and director of C.U. Winds won a contest sponsored by Google this summer to become one of 8,000 “Google Glass Explorers” testing out the product. Part camera, touchpad and microphone, the augmented-reality glasses — still in beta stage — have allowed Turner to see “an 110-percent improvement” in how she teaches students to conduct, she said.

“When I first got it, I thought, ‘Wow … I don’t even know if I want to put it on,’” Turner said at an event at Balch Hall Wednesday evening. “But this semester, I’ve been able to give students immediate feedback on their conducting with Google Glass, and that alone has been fanstastic.”

Prof. Cynthia Johnston Turner, music, demonstrates Google Glass at an event Wednesday. (Livestream courtesy of Cornell University)

Prof. Cynthia Johnston Turner, music, demonstrates Google Glass at an event Wednesday.
(Livestream courtesy of Cornell University)

Before Google Glass, Turner had to set up a video camera in the back of her classroom, film her students in conducting lab moving and then upload the video to Blackboard so her students could receive feedback about their work.

“It’d take a good hour to hour-and-a-half,” she said.

With Google Glass, however, Turner has the ability to film anything in her frame of sight. Asking Tyler Ehrlich ’14, a student who has helped her apply Google Glass to her teaching, to begin conducting in 4/4 time, Turner showed the audience Wednesday how she can take videos without needing bulky equipment or tripods.

“Let’s say Tyler had extraneous movement. I could actually show him in the camera what was going on, and within five minutes of plugging into my computer later, I can share videos with the Google community,” she said, walking around Ehrlich as he continued to move his hands to a 4/4 beat.

Working with Ehrlich, Turner has also explored embedding music scores in Google Glass so she can conduct from a podium without needing to look down on a stand.

“Obviously, as a conductor, I find the idea of something that gives me information without me having to use two hands very compelling,” Turner said. It is like being a chef who wants to look up a recipe without using his or her hands, Turner said — using Google Glass, people can access information without needing to type into a search engine or click a mouse.

A self-described “early adopter of technology,” Turner said she has loved using Google Glass so far. She acknowledged, however, that skeptics have raised concerns about the product — asking how it might possibly allow people to invade others’ privacy and even, in some casinos, bars and restaurants’ cases, banning it outright.

“Ultimately, this is a generation that puts pictures of their dinner on Facebook — and yet we’re also a country that says we believe in national security. So I’m not sure where those two things line up in concept,” she said.

Other people have questioned her use of Google Glass in music education, saying “Music is for the ears, not the eyes.”

“They said, ‘You have the wrong sense’ — to which I’d say, isn’t music for all the senses? Why not the heart, why not tactile?” Turner said. “Classical music needs to think about how we can engage more with our audience members.”

Advancements in technology are rapid and inevitable, and it is up to each individual to decide how to use technology in his or her life, she said.

“I don’t want to come down on either side of the debate or in the middle — I just think it’s happening, and we each have the responsibility of dealing with technology in a way that’s comfortable for us,” she said. “It’s here. How is it going to make my life and my students’ life better?”

Turner and Ehrlich are working together to develop other applications of Google Glass in music education. The two of them are documenting their experience with Google Glass on a blog online.