The education sector is not renowned as being an early adopter of technology—nor has it ever been. Even the move from slate to paper was seen as a death wish move in the classroom for teaching and learning outcomes. Just three years ago Michael Gove (the then education secretary) said at BETT that if a Victorian teacher came back into a lesson today they would recognise the classroom / teaching environment and be quite at home.
The education sector is therefore generally considered the laggard where technology is concerned. There are two factors why this is the case: budget constraints are a perennial nightmare and nearly all suppliers have been selling the technology expecting it to be a magic wand for the teachers where the bad taste remains for each next iteration.
Actually, such a pitch should never be about the technology—instead it is about the teaching and learning, and for that to be achieved the technology should be as reliable a resource as a textbook and as robust as a pencil.
Happily, there is change happening, and the classroom is finally moving beyond traditional teaching and learning methods. Schools have started developing infrastructure to facilitate ICT-enabled education, and are adopting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as a principle to enhance connectivity and take education to the next level. The use of robotics, smart classes, 24×7 connectivity with enterprise Wi-Fi coverage, and multi-device support are some of the key areas providing leverage to drive the adoption of technology in the classroom.
What does an IoT connected school look like?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about the connection of things (other than standard products such as computers and smartphones) to the Internet, and is transforming numerous areas of our everyday lives.
Let’s think of things beings physical items that can be connected to both the Internet and people via sensors. Sensors give things a “voice”. By capturing data, sensors enable things to become context-aware, providing more experiential information to help people and machines make relevant and valuable decisions.
And while it might not seem like an obvious application for IoT, Education is as relevant as any other sector. In fact, the Education sector is an extremely exciting opportunity for IoT as there are a number of ways that schools can get started. Here’s how it might look in an education setting:
- Every pupil is issued with a wearable device that logs their attendance, or in a school with BYOD or provided tablets, these devices can be registered with each pupil to enable auto-registration. This not only streamlines the lesson register without requiring any intervention from the teacher, but also makes it more accurate.
- Digital beacons transmit lesson information directly to each pupils device as they enter the classroom
- Automatic ordering for stationery and supplies, cutting down on waste whilst keeping stock efficiently filled and ready to go
- Personalised learning materials that analyse and assess progress and usage
- Sensors play a pivotal role in the area of student safety. In Oakland, California security cameras and motion sensors are integrated into the schools’ networks to monitor facilities and make sure the learning environment remains a danger-free zone for students, teachers, and parents.
How can IoT support learning in the classroom?
Smart learning opportunities supported by connected devices can help shape and enrich lessons. For example, weather station devices that upload data to national or international databases provide real-life information for science and geographical study.
Meanwhile, in physics lessons, smart sensors that are being used in bridges to monitor temperature, structural integrity, and traffic density in real time can help students learn physics using their portable devices to collect and observe the bridge at peak traffic times. Capabilities like these have huge implications for learning and the potential to help transform pedagogical practices.
Special education is another area where sensors can have a huge impact. In Australia, sensor gloves are being explored to provide feedback to children learning Auslan sign language from a computer. A learner attempts to sign while wearing the glove; the information is fed back to the computer, which gives the learner feedback on the accuracy of his/her signing. The learning system needs feedback that is timely and accurate from a wide range of learners for it be effective.
Other products such as headsets help learners who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and/or are easily distracted. Equipped with sensors, the headsets detect brain activity and offers rewards when a learner demonstrates improved concentration. The link between real objects (things) and web-based information about them is a significant step for education and will create deeper understanding across curriculums.
But IoT applications in education don’t just stop at primary or secondary schools.
At university level, students can support research papers with IoT technology. There has never been a better way to study hard-to-reach animals than with sensors. Spanish biologists recently used a new RFID system to observe marine life in salt water—a medium that tends to disrupt other forms of radio communication. The information can be made available to educators and research students, helping them provide live data to increase their understanding and stay updated on the latest findings and research.
What about education outside the classroom?
Education doesn’t just mean the ‘classroom’—it is of course about teaching and learning. During the recent ICC (International Cricket Council) Champions trophy, several batsmen had bats fitted with IoT sensors to track their performance. The sensors, developed by Intel and sports startup Specular, measure the bat’s speed and angle during back-lift, impact, and follow-through. The figures will then be transmitted for immediate analysis by coaches and broadcasters. Coaches can then use this information to fine-tune training sessions and strategies, and improve overall performance.
When will the connected classroom become the norm?
In my view, it is not far-fetched to envisage that very soon in the classroom all pupils will have one-to-one tablets for all lessons, in the same way when textbooks were first introduced they were shared amongst the class, before becoming the norm of one-to-one that we know now.
If this sounds fanciful, it’s worth noting that technology very often does become mainstream eventually. You only have to look at ABS (Antilock Braking Systems) which being very expensive were used only in F1, but are now standard and all pervasive.
However, there is still much work to be done in convincing shareholders of the value of IoT as the below image illustrates, along an experience I came across recently clearly demonstrates. In a school where iPads had been introduced, the project leader set about assessing where and how they were being used. ‘Yes!’ said the excited geography teacher, ‘I use it in all my lessons—look here are two, and this is how tectonic plates interact’, as the teacher held them up and made movements to slide the iPads to mirror tectonic plate movement.
If you’re in education, or have a partner or customer that is, or just want to know more about IoT and how it can help you, please get in touch with us here.