Role of wearable activity-tracking technologies on the well-being and quality of life of people aged 55 and over

About the project

Our research project at UK’s Open University and in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes aims to investigate whether there are changes in behaviour in people aged over 55 years through the use of wearable activity-tracking technologies. Example technologies include those from Fitbit, Jawbone, or smart watches from Apple or Samsung. Typically, these devices record steps walked, sleep patterns, or calories expended.  

The benefits of regular physical activity for older adults and those with chronic disease and/or mobility limitations are indisputable. Regular physical activity attenuates many of the health risks associated with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, and cognitive decline. As physical activity levels among older adults (both with and without chronic disease) are low, facilitating an increase in activity levels is an important public health issue. Walking has been identified as an ideal means of low-impact, low-risk physical activity that can boost physical and mental wellbeing. Our previous research has shown that walking with others can help reduce social isolation and loneliness among people aged 55 and over.

Research strand related to participants trying out activity trackers

In our year-long project (May 2016 – April 2017), in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes and funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, we have given activity-trackers to 21 participants in the age range from 55 – 82. Through monthly workshops, diaries that the participants are maintaining and sharing with us on a weekly basis, and through one-to-one interviews with them, we are investigating how the behaviours of our participants is changing – whether there is an increase in their activity such as walking or gardening, lifestyle changes, attitudes towards food/diet, and so on.

Our preliminary data analysis shows: increase in activity levels in all the participants; increased awareness of food intake; and sharing of data with the GPs to diagnose the non-optimal sleep patterns (one of them now has a treatment plan in place for poor sleep). A couple of participants have joined the gym when they realised that their desk-based work-life doesn’t give them the opportunity to stay active during the week. One of the participants who as high-sensitivity to ultraviolet rays is able to plan her outings by viewing the snapshot of the current UV level and by setting an exposure reminder to help protect herself. An 80+ participant is able to plan her days based on the activity levels that her device provides – having some rest-days in between hectic days so as not to over-tire herself.

A couple of quotes from our participants:

“I have been thinking about how the Fitbit has changed my daily routine and there is no doubt that it has changed my view of exercise. I am feeling better and the additional exercise continues to help with the osteoarthritis in my knees.  I have set my daily target as 5000 steps and I am now achieving this on most days, I feel I have failed if I don’t.” 
“I am still checking the number of steps but I don’t feel as disappointed if I haven’t reached my target.  There is no doubt that it has made me more aware of the need for exercise and I now park at the far side of the car park and walk to the shop – not much but its progress.”

Latest news about our project

We have launched a survey that is aimed at medical professionals to explore whether they use the data from these devices for diagnosis and intervention. Most importantly, do medical professionals use data from these devices to determine the behaviour or lifestyle changes in people aged over 55 years?  If you are a doctor or healthcare professional, please visit https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/role-in-medical-consultations or http://bit.ly/2cPr852 to participate in this survey. It will take 3-5 minutes to complete this survey.

The role of Virtual Reality-based virtual field trips in supporting physical fieldwork

The authors of this blog-post are Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University, UK and Dr Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council, UK.

Audience in the Science Circle island of Second Life (picture courtesy: Chantal Snoek, Founder, Science Circle)

Audience in the Science Circle island of Second Life (picture courtesy: Chantal Snoek, Founder, Science Circle)

Taking the example of Virtual Reality-based Google Expeditions, in a presentation in the 3D virtual world, Second Life on 3 September 2016, we (Dr Ana-Despina Tudor and Professor Shailey Minocha, The Open University, UK and Dr. Steve Tilling, Field Studies Council) discussed how virtual field trips can prepare students for physical fieldwork and enhance the fieldwork experience during and after a physical field trip. Our project's details are summarised in a previous blog-post

In this Second Life talk, we presented the results from our preliminary investigations with Geography and Science educators, fieldworkers and curriculum leaders. The presentation slides are available here.

These are some of the themes that came up in the discussion:

  • significance of outdoor fieldwork in Geography and Science (the two subjects of study in our project); 
  • constraints on how physical field trips may not always be feasible because of some of these challenges: cost constraints, safety concerns, time limitations (in the school timetables);
  • cost of the VR technology - smartphones, tablets, virtual reality (VR) viewers and availability of network for smartphone and mobile-app based VR such as in the case of Google Expeditions; concerns about the affordability for schools and parents; 

Discussion quotes: 

"biggest challenges would be money, not allowing smartphones in schools (we have 1:1 laptops instead) and admin buy-in"

"If schools in the UK can find a way of providing tablets that can be used in class that would be great so we can avoid the issue of affordability of some families."

  • need of guidance or resources or lesson-plans for teachers for using such technologies in the classrooms;
  • teachers would like to create their own content but is it really feasible given the time-constraints?
  • concern about teachers having to keep pace with the ever-changing VR-landscape;
  • need for sufficient evidence on the role of VR in education and in schools for adoption.

Dr Steve Tilling, UK's Field Studies Council, said: "I'd just say that I think VR will follow a similar path to Google Earth. Slow at first, but accelerated rapidly as teachers developed their own resources. Now, 10 years later, many geographers, and some scientists, would struggle to survive without it."

Our thanks to Chantal Snoek, Founder of Science Circle, for hosting our presentation in the Science Circle island in Second Life.

We will keep you posted on our future events and research results. 

Investigating the role of virtual reality in Science and Geography in schools via Google Expeditions

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  Teachers of Science and Geography trying out Google Expeditions at a local school in Milton Keynes, UK.  [Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of UK's Open University (standing) was leading the session.]

Teachers of Science and Geography trying out Google Expeditions at a local school in Milton Keynes, UK.

[Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of UK's Open University (standing) was leading the session.]

The authors of this blog post are: Professor Shailey Minocha and Dr Ana-Despina Tudor of The Open University, UK and Dr Steve Tilling, UK's Field Studies Council.

The year 2016 is when Virtual Reality has finally become a mainstream product, with major investment by some of the leading developers in the IT and smartphone sector (e.g. HTC, Samsung, Sony). Whilst the Virtual Reality (VR) devices being launched this year are usually associated with gaming and entertainment, their potential in education is also being explored. 

Google Expeditions (GEs) is one of the VR approaches being promoted by Google in schools globally. GEs are guided tours (field trips) of places that students experience on a smartphone through a virtual reality viewer called Google cardboard (see video). Also, see another video.

A GE comprises of 360 degrees scenes or panoramas of a location (e.g. a museum, or a city like Rio de Janeiro) along with the description of that location, points of interest and some suggested questions for inquiry and discussion. GEs also enable visualisation of locations which may not be feasible or easy to visit in real life (e.g. volcanoes, or an underwater visit to Great Barrier Reef, or Galapagos islands). Further, GE-like VR-based simulations can help to envision concepts and systems such as the human heart, circulatory system, or a plant cell. Using a Tablet and via the GEs App (available from Google Play Store), a teacher can guide students to look at places and concepts. Students experience the GE/VR through the smartphones embedded within the VR viewers.

The Open University (OU), UK are conducting a school-based research project (funded by Google and the OU) on the potential use of VR via GEs in secondary school science and geography classes. The project is being co-led by Field Studies Council, and UK's Association for Science Education and Geographical Association are the two partnering organisations. The project will run until July 2017 (project website). 

The focus of this project is to understand:

  • how VR-based field trips can prepare students for physical fieldwork in Science and Geography classes;
  • how effectiveVR-based simulations are at representing scientific or geographic concepts (e.g. showing students a human heart, taking them to an underwater excursion);
  • whether VR-based field trips facilitate spatial literacy; and
  • whether VR-based field trips support self-directed inquiry-based learning.

Involvement of schools in the UK in the Autumn term 2016

These are the following ways in which we are inviting schools and teachers (KS3, KS4 and A-levels) to participate in our research.

  • in-class sessions with students and teachers where teachers can try out GEs during a Science or Geography lesson (the OU researchers will help teachers plan the lesson ahead of the session(s)).
  • meeting with a group of Science and Geography teachers during lunch-hour or at the end of the school-day; this will involve a demo and hands-on and discussion on virtual reality field trips and their role in Science and Geography Curricula.
  • involving teachers to review GE-based virtual field trips with the view of reflecting on the role of VR-based field trips in teaching and learning Science and Geography.

To express your interest in taking part in this project, please complete this online form: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/Virtual-Reality-Google-Expeditions or http://bit.ly/29ShR6k. Alternatively, please contact Dr Ana-Despina Tudor or Professor Shailey Minocha at the OU (ana.tudor@open.ac.uk; shailey.minocha@open.ac.uk)

The research will be carried out with approval from OU’s Human Research Ethics Committee. The findings of the project will be shared with teachers and their schools. Ways of recognising participating schools and teachers are currently being investigated.

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    Teachers, policy makers and fieldworkers at a Google Expeditions workshop at UK’s Open University in Milton Keynes

Teachers, policy makers and fieldworkers at a Google Expeditions workshop at UK’s Open University in Milton Keynes

Virtual-reality based field trips and climate change

In our Google-funded Google Expeditions project, we are investigating the role of virtual reality (VR)-based field trips in complementing physical field trips - for preparation ahead of a physical field trip, for spatial literacy and awareness during a physical field trip, and for revision/reflection and even for completion of activities (if some of them couldn't be completed due to weather, etc.) after a physical field trip.

Most importantly, we are investigating the role of VR-based field trips in simulating learning scenarios that the students may not be able to experience in real life or may not be able to travel due to constraints of resources.

Towards this objective, we are interacting with UK school teachers for eliciting their critique on existing Google Expeditions and also for generating ideas for 'new' Google Expeditions and for the theme 'Climate change'.

This article Can virtual reality emerge as a tool for conservation? discusses the role of virtual reality in raising awareness of conservation issues such as those related to climate change - it reinforces our research objectives - how VR-based field trips can aid student engagement and student attainment. 

Through this blog, we will keep you updated as we carry out our research in UK schools. We are primarily focussing on subjects that have a fieldwork component - Geography and Science (e.g. Biology) but we are aware that for a theme like Climate Change, we may have to interact with teachers from other disciplines such as economics and history. 

 

Can animals help combat loneliness and dementia?

Can animals help combat loneliness and dementia?

People with dementia "spend a lot of time feeling challenged, and a warm physical presence can cut through that."Could these animals could change how we think about care for all the elderly?

Posted by Channel 4 News on Friday, March 25, 2016

On Channel 4 News tonight (and in this video), they discussed about therapeutic animal handling sessions that are held by Furry Tales in local care homes in the fight against social isolation and loneliness in  older people. 

Another similar venture is Pets as Therapy which is a national charity, that provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues by volunteers with their own friendly, temperament tested and vaccinated dogs and cats.

In our report for Milton Keynes Council on social isolation and loneliness in people aged 55 and over in Milton Keynes, we have discussed the significance of pets for older people and how independently living older people who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental wellbeing than those that do not (pages 18-19 of the report).  

Also, see this article in the Guardian, 7 October 2014 that discusses how doctors are referring patients to a community pet handling project to reduce social isolation.