According to the Oxford dictionary, smart means intelligent, acumen. In this sense, the article’s title ‘The Smart School’ may be misleading and cause readers to think this article is about educational achievement rather than about schools where advanced equipment and technology are used to take educational processes forward, including more efficient and effective operations. Despite this, we have decided to keep the title ‘The Smart School, as it’s the most commonly used phrase when talking about the implementation of the Internet of Things (IoT) to augment current practices e.g. Smart Cities/Communities.
Augmenting learning, teaching, leading, and management via the implementation of technologies is the overarching aim of the Smart School. Until now, most references to ‘Smart Schools’ and technology has focused on teaching and learning. While this is both welcome and understandable, there are significant opportunities beyond this narrow constraint to explore how technologies, such as IoT, can significantly enhance current management and leadership practices in schools. Many technologies we have written about before may be familiar to the majority of our readers, but one that may not be is IoT.
The term “Internet of Things” was coined in 1999 when Kevin Ashton put it in a PowerPoint presentation for Procter & Gamble. Ashton, who was then working in supply chain optimization, described a system where sensors acted like the eyes and ears of a computer—an entirely new way for computers to see, hear, touch, and interpret their surroundings. There are related terms of IIoT (dubbed by GE) as Industrial IoT or Cisco’s version of IoE – Internet of Everything. One that struck us as relevant to education is from Flex who call it Intelligence of Things. To put it in context, we are talking of a staggering number, a predicted 100 billion+ IoT devices by the middle of this decade.
Any IoT system today contains a few basic components. First, there’s the thing outfitted with sensors. These sensors could be anything that collects data, like a camera (or imaging sensor) inside a smart refrigerator or an accelerometer (movement sensor) that tracks speed in a smart running shoe. To make sense of this data, the device has some kind of network connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, or satellite) and a processor where it can be stored and analysed. From there, the data can be used to trigger an action—like adjusting the temperature automatically given a set of rules.
Probably the most common examples are AI based voice assistants like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana or Google Home. Other widely visible examples are wrist-worn wearables such as smartwatches that track our fitness and health. For those who want to dive deeper on this, a useful starting point is the Wired article ‘The Wired Guide to the Internet of Things’ and some pointers from a previous article ‘Emerging Paradigms and rapidly Evolving Mega-Trends in Wearable Tech shape a new Era of Smarter Connected Living …’
So, what might a technology enabled Smart School contain?
Opportunities to create a Smart School
On searching for previous writing on a Smart School in the context of this article, the majority of examples were student focused like the article on the Samsung Smart School, which identifies opportunities through the interplay between Smart devices (laptops, tablets, phones and watches); Content and Solution and; Teacher Training to enable a more:
- Interactive class
- Collaborative activities
- Motivational environment
- Access to digital content
We’d like to extend the thinking further, but first wish to acknowledge the significant opportunity that IoT enabled tablets and pens can offer to real-time tracking of progress by teachers, alongside the importance of providing training and ongoing support for staff to successfully implement these solutions into their current practices.
For Learners and Teachers
The first step for many schools is typically the introduction and use of voice assistants such as Alexa to provide additional support to students and teachers. One such example is askMyCLass, which has a range of free activities to help set up the class for learning as well as some paid activities around developing social and emotional skills.
We predict the early adoption of IoT enabled ID cards to manage attendance and give access to areas and/or resources. Both are time-consuming activities that are undertaken by administrators and may not be adding value to the student/teacher interaction.
An increasing number of adults and young people are using wearables to track their movement through smartwatches. While there is an obvious opportunity to introduce the wider use of these in Health and Physical Education lessons, there are also several IoT, bio- sensor available to augment learning:
- Neurosensors/NeuroTech can be used to improve the cognitive skills of students learning experience. There is an increasing range of applications of the BCI (Brain Computer Interface) with EEG/TDCS incorporating with other biofeedback sensors measuring GSR/EDA, HRV (to give physiological stress), etc. One such tool using EEG is NeuroSky’s Effective Leaner with Study Trainer that can be used with the mindwave mobile BCI
- Smart Cameras with autonomous video analytics to gauge student presence, attention, retention, participation, etc. along with other parameters to monitor physical and emotional metrics with facial pattern
- Haptic prompts to remind students to get back on task or to take a movement break if they’ve been sitting for too long. Many wrist-worn wearables have deployed nudges to stand up, breathe effectively, improve posture. Some are mentioned in this article.
- ‘Smart’ Clothes or Wearables are increasingly being embedded in clothes for a range of reasons and are already being used in China to track the location of school children. There is a multitude of children’s smart bands/watches and school bag clip- on type devices for tracking and positioning using GPS
- Learnometer – Professor Stephen Heppell has developed the Learnometer which helps you to monitor your classroom environment for factors which may hinder learning through the monitoring of:
- Ambient light
- Ambient noise
- Presence of TVOCs – chemicals that impact on wellbeing and learning
- Fine Dust
Also, for young people who have health challenges, the use of bio-sensors can help with such things as asthma and epilepsy through the notification of problems with air quality or the warning of an increased likelihood of a seizure occurring.
For Leaders and Managers
As well as enabling better learning environments using IoT, there are significant opportunities to increase security and energy efficiency. A Smart School may also consider the IoT applications to optimise student and resource management:
- GPS tracking installed on all school transport
- Tracking of student movement around the campus to identify possible ‘hot spots’ and improve movement such as introducing staggered breaks to ensure corridors do not become overcrowded
- Monitoring school entry points for intruders
- Automatic lights
- Automated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) with smart energy integration
- Hardware maintenance – sensors installed on hardware to keep track on location as well as identifying when servicing is required
Challenges with IoT
There are several potential threats and weaknesses in adopting the greater use of IoT in schools. Firstly, to successfully integrate the devices into the classroom and wider environment, the school will need to have reliable Wi-Fi with robust network bandwidth and resources to enable all students and teachers to benefit from the opportunities, as well as the necessary training and support to successfully implement the use of IoT. Secondly, when more devices begin measuring and collecting data from students and staff, they are potentially putting the security and privacy of all at risk by storing sensitive data in an internet-based network of connected devices that could be prone to a cyber-attack. Just because we can, does not mean that we should!
The two main concerns around IoT in education are cost and security. However, students and staff already live in a hyper-connected reality which is only going to increase. Therefore seizing the opportunities IoT offers, schools and school systems must consider and balance the risks and rewards that will enable real innovation to occur.
The Smart School is a key part of the growing smart cities and communities paradigm. It will enable true, personalized, and contextual learning experiences using smart, gamified content and services. The cross-linkages with other smart life enablers such as Smart Healthcare, Smart Transportation, and Smart Energy are important for the seamless flow of relevant data, which is valuable to deciphering insights and building a proactive and predictive/prescriptive analytical system.
In the future, there will be an increasing number of opportunities for schools to implement advanced technology solutions to augment learning, teaching, and leading, and due consideration must be given to how these technologies can truly affect and enhance learning environments, school security, and energy efficiencies for the benefit of all.
Nick Burnett Co-Founder of LearnTech Lab Many thanks to my co-author Anuraj Gambhir for his insights and knowledge. http://anuraj.io/