Exploring the evolving potential for digital learning.
GUEST COLUMN | by Perry Correll
You simply can’t get away from the Internet of Things (IoT). Gartner predicts there will be 25 million connected “things” in use by 2020. The news sensationalizes the impact IoT will have on all of our lives and the “paradigm” shift it is generating – equal to, if not exceeding that of the Internet. But in reality, what truly matters is how this shift addresses our specific needs.
It is very easy to envision how IoT capabilities can be used in STEM programs, robotics and anything having to do with gathering specific data points.
IoT’s impact was originally seen in logistics and inventory management, then surveillance and tracking. These days, however, IoT can provide benefits to almost any market. One that is proving to be impactful is education. IoT technology is bolstering education to bring about an age of digital learning, updating campuses and classrooms for the better. While the technology is a vital component, how educators use it is just as important.
Over the years, we’ve seen generations of new classroom technology meant to transform learning, TVs, computers, the Internet, whiteboards/smart boards, educational games, video conferencing, student response systems, the list goes on. In every case, you can identify examples where the technology was deployed and yielded successful results. However, there are many cases where the technology did not stick, leaving educators waiting for the next solution to surface.
There are numerous use cases for IoT in education – examples we run into constantly are how IoT allows a student in the dorm to be automatically informed when a dryer is available, or when the soda machines are refilled. Similarly, we hear about the middle school student who uses beacons or QR codes to help him/her find his/her third period classroom. But how does this advance education? And what about the student who can’t afford a phone or doesn’t understand the QR code technology? BYOD was initially seen as a great learning tool, but resulted in huge challenges for IT administrators and increased the digital divide between those who could afford and those who couldn’t. Could we see this again with IoT?
IoT leverages advances in electronics, enabling the development of smaller, reduced power, and most importantly offering less expensive wireless systems that can be integrated in almost any type of device. Although Wi-Fi is the most recognized form of wireless technology, IoT leverages other connectivity technologies including Zigbee, NFC, RFID and Bluetooth.
Some of these technologies require so little power that a watch battery can last for years, while some, like RFID, can even be passive, requiring no power source at all. Additionally there are technologies like EnOcean, which uses energy harvesting to generate power from slight mechanical motion (pushing a light switch) or even from the environment (light or temperature). This is then converted into energy to operate low power wireless systems. Bottom line is the technology exists to add wireless sensor capabilities to virtually any device, including wearables, books, small sensors, fixed structures and even people.
Technology will always have a place in education. It is very easy to envision how IoT capabilities can be used in STEM programs, robotics and anything having to do with gathering specific data points. It’s all in the potential. IoT can simplify and automate access to information. This saves teachers and students time and effort. But it is ultimately the educator who needs to be able to identify the right technology and integrate it properly in the classroom for education to evolve.
Perry Correll is principal technologist for Xirrus, a Wi-Fi technology company based in Thousand Oaks, Calif.