Internet of Things — and Learning

Glimpsing the Jetson-esque possibilities for the not-too-distant future of schools. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Zuora infographicWhat exactly is the “Internet of Things” and how is it being seen in classrooms and school districts? For a better perspective on this emerging area, we chatted with an expert. Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at IT management software provider SolarWinds, based in Austin, Texas. “The Internet of Things – or IoT – consists of all manner of Internet-connected devices. These include not just smartphones, tablets, laptops, printers, but smartwatches, signage, televisions, gaming consoles, web-connected cars, and even clothing,” says Chris. “The Apple Watch is yet another example of an IoT device. It will be a very fast-growing

IoT will open the door even wider for faculty and students to use technology to advance educational needs in many different areas. 

market – industry research group Gartner predicts it will reach 28 billion units by 2020 – and one that will soon be having an enormous impact on schools’ and their networks,” he says. (Click on the George Jeston image for a full infographic from Zuora)

Victor: Are there benefits to IoT? Why should schools allow this to happen?

Chris: Yes, there are definite benefits to schools. IoT will open the door even wider for faculty and students to use technology to advance educational needs in many different areas.

Physical education departments will be able to use sneakers to track the health goals of individual students. Schools will be able to issue clothing items and wearable devices that use telemetry-based technology to track students, enhancing safety and security. Schools can also use Internet-connected environmental systems to improve energy efficiency. We’re already seeing this in the consumer home space with things like the Nest thermostat, and other devices that “learn” the environment where they are installed. As we know, the public and educational sectors often follow the retail space, and I would anticipate we’ll soon see these types of technologies finding their ways into schools.

Victor: Most school IT teams are still trying to work out the kinks of BYOD, how is IoT going to change things for them?

Chris: The challenges with IoT will prove quite different than those IT departments experienced with the “bring your own device” movement, and will be even more complex. Unfortunately, that means even more headaches as administrators begin to deal with a massive influx of devices the likes of which they’ve never seen before. And so, while they may have thought BYOD was challenging, IoT will stretch IT in new and sometimes frustrating ways.

Further, there’ll still be the key IT hot button issues, such as security and bandwidth management, but those will be fighting for priority position with new concerns. But IoT will also renew the debate around privacy issues, particularly for litigious-shy educational institutions.

All of this being said, at the end of the day, IoT will provide faculty and students with an unprecedented means of accessing and sharing information and enhancing education in new and indisputably exciting ways. For schools that have already become accustomed to using the Web as an educational tool, that might just be the thing that makes all the trouble of managing them worthwhile.

Victor: You mention bandwidth strains as a potential challenge of IoT, how can admins keep up with the higher demand?

Chris: It’s true that the sheer number of devices being used will create considerable bandwidth issues. School networks will struggle under the weight, creating a great need for school IT administrators to implement some form of network monitoring solution, if they haven’t done so already.

Comprehensive network monitoring allows school IT networks to be optimized through close analysis of network performance issues, bandwidth usage, and traffic patterns. Administrators can use this information to pinpoint which devices or applications are consuming the most data, and take action upon them as necessary. Further, they can monitor new devices and IP addresses as they ping the network – a benefit that will become increasingly apparent as hundreds of different types of devices make their ways into school halls.

Victor: As with any network, the more access points, the more opportunity for data loss. How can admins ensure protection of proprietary and personal information?

Chris: The biggest issue with IoT is that it is so varied – there will be hundreds of different devices from hundreds of different manufacturers. Administrators won’t be able to just plan their strategy around Apple or Android devices, for example. There’s little standardization where commoditized products become inexpensive, which means there are many variables, including different operating systems and potential vulnerabilities. Therefore, managing security with today’s approaches may prove to be exceptionally difficult.

The ability for networks to self-heal will prove crucial. They’ll need to automatically correct issues as they come up, and remediation will need to be immediate, regardless of the type of device or operating system causing the issues. Self-healing will greatly reduce response times from days (or perhaps even longer as administrators try to get a grasp on exactly what type of device is causing havoc) to minutes, significantly mitigating potential network downtime or damage from attack.

In the meantime, log and event management (LEM) monitoring will continue to play a critical role in network security management. LEM can give school IT administrators a 24/7 overview of which devices are on the network, what they’re accessing, and more. It can also give IT managers an opportunity to proactively respond to potential security threats before they occur. LEM monitoring has been highly effective for mobile devices, and will no doubt prove to be instrumental when dealing with the early stages of IoT.

Victor: How will privacy policies need to be established or changed?

Chris: Privacy concerns will take on a whole new dimension with IoT, especially since many of the devices will not even appear to contain cameras. Consider Google Glass, which looks like nothing more than a funky piece of eyewear, but actually contains very sophisticated optical capabilities. It’s easy to stealthily take photos and video with this particular device. Something like this will likely force schools to extend existing policies for the protection of privacy and information. From legal and administrative standpoints, new guidelines will need to be established for both faculty and students. From a technical perspective, it will be up to IT departments to make sure that those guidelines are withheld through the use of approved devices and technologies.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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EdTech Awards Entry Period Open

CREDIT XirrusThe 2015 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program entry period is currently open but closes at the end of this month on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. The EdTech Awards program recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. The program celebrates the best and brightest apps, platforms, products and people in the education and technology (“edtech”) world. The awards program is open to industry solutions providers, hardware and software; platform developers, app-makers, educators and other leaders, innovators and trendsetters in and around education including K-12, Higher Education and lifelong learning. There are three broad entry categories: the Cool Tool awards, the EdTech Leadership awards, and the Trendsetter awards. Each award, in turn, has numerous subcategories under which to enter, e.g., emerging technology solutions, mobile learning apps, academic gaming solutions, professional development solutions, STEM solutions, special needs; edtech leader, edtech visionary, product or service setting a trend, and many more categories. Time is short, but entry is quick and easy. To be considered, click here for an entry form and details.

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Cool Tool | Teachwise

CREDIT TeachwiseAccording to a study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association, public school teachers spend almost $500 out of pocket on materials for their students each school year. So Frontline Technologies, a leading provider of web-based software for the K-12 education market, developed Teachwise – an online marketplace for teachers to buy and sell original educational materials. No more countless hours developing lesson plans and gambling with unproven, costly material. With this tool, teachers now have the ability to find the best resources at the best price and the opportunity to resell what they no longer need — kind of like an “Amazon (dot com) for education.” With the simplified sign-up process and its unique features, such as the built-in product editor and product focused searches, teachers can quickly find a product they need for their students with ease. Free products are also available so teachers can test them before they purchase. Once teachers no longer need a resource, they can simply upload it to the website, giving other teachers a chance to purchase it. Teachwise works on the idea that hard work and collaboration build strong classrooms and even stronger students. Check it out: http://www.teachwise.com

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Fingerpainting the Future of EdTech

A kindergarten teacher shares her view of the real trendsetters in education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Stephanie Pullen

CREDIT Stephanie PullenWho would you say are the biggest trendsetters in education?

Are they superintendents of the largest, most innovative districts? How about the movers and shakers on social media? Or the policy makers in Washington, D.C.?

For me, it’s another group entirely: The five- and six-year-old students who grace my kindergarten classroom every morning.

I’m sure that may sound strange to some of you, so let me explain. When I think about trendsetters, I think of people who are inquisitive, eager to try new things and able to share their discoveries with others.

My students embody those qualities better than anybody else I know, especially when they’re introduced to new technology. I’ll tell you the story of how we implemented one technology in particular so you can see what I mean.

When I think about trendsetters, I think of people who are inquisitive, eager to try new things and able to share their discoveries with others. 

1) Inquisitive

Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes around a kindergartner knows this one should be fairly self-explanatory! They have an endless fountain of questions, and I love watching their minds work as they explore new technology in the classroom.

Last spring, we started using the Flexcat, a classroom audio system from Lightspeed Technologies. Basically, I wear a small microphone around my neck, and my voice carries through audio pods I place anywhere in the classroom. Since the system arrived so late in the school year, I was a little hesitant to see how my students would react to the change. So I set the pods out on the four small group tables in my classroom and waited.

As soon as my students entered the room, they were immediately captivated by the new technology, and I was hit with a barrage of questions.

What’s that thing around your neck? What does this blue light mean? What does this button do? Where is your voice coming from? Can you really hear us from all the way across the room?

I was so impressed with their ability to assess this new technology immediately and determine the most important questions about how it would affect them.

2) Eager to try new things 

You may have already guessed this from all the questions my students asked, but they embraced the technology right away, even its more advanced features!

For instance, by using the system’s “Call” button on their audio pod, my students can signal to me that they need my attention, and I’ll hear it in my headset. I wasn’t sure if they would understand that they really didn’t have to raise their hands or yell across the room for me any more.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. They instantly deemed it “super cool” that they wouldn’t have to raise their hands, and one little boy even reported to his parents, “It sounds like Mrs. Pullen is on a stage! We can hear her everywhere!”

If there’s ever a morning where I forget to turn on the system, my students are quick to remind me. In fact, any technology that I’ve introduced in the classroom, no matter how advanced, they have really taken to and used correctly.

3) Able to share their discoveries with others

In addition to being a kindergarten teacher, I’m also a district instructional technologist, so I help anybody in the district who needs help setting up new technology or learning to use it. But I’m starting to think about hiring one of the elementary school students as my assistant – sometimes they’re even better at explaining new technology than I am!

After we began using the that system last year, other teachers were understandably curious to see how it worked. One of my colleagues stopped by my classroom after the school day ended to check out the system, and a student took it upon himself to show her how it worked! He even designed his own “experiment” to test how far the audio signal would reach, bringing one of the pods farther and farther down the hallway.

Of course, my colleague was very impressed with the technology, but I was even more impressed with the student’s desire to explore and explain it to her.

~ ~ ~

Veteran teachers and administrators often resist new technology because they’ve always done things another way, or they’re afraid trying something new will be too messy.

It’s always a little funny to me because my kindergartners have no such hang-ups. They surprise me every day with how quick they are to adapt and learn new things.

So if you really want to meet the trendsetters in education, I invite you to stop by my classroom – you just might learn something.

Stephanie Pullen is a kindergarten teacher at Commerce Elementary School and a district instructional technologist for Commerce ISD in Commerce, Texas.

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Cool Tool | Campus Steps

CREDIT Campus StepsThe majority of high schools don’t have access to technology that can fundamentally improve the success of college-bound students. For every one high school counselor there are 477 students and, on average, a high school student will receive a mere 25 minutes of guidance time over the course of their education. Enter Campus Steps.com, among the first free platforms of its kind with powerful apps for students, parents, and counselors to connect, communicate and navigate the road to higher education. Campus Steps provides multiple apps for students to use throughout their high school career. For example, a student can search for his or her best college fit, check SAT deadlines, apply for colleges and communicate with their counselor. A few of the most popular student apps are:

  • Chance of Admissions Technology – Students receive individualized admissions scores based on the strength of their academic portfolios that help them narrow in on the best schools for them.
  • STEPS Admissions Guide – Everything students need to know about what each school expects from applicants.
  • My College Goals Manager – Students create a college goal list and manage their application process all in one place.
  • College Matching - Allows students to search for and be matched to appropriate colleges or trade schools from a database of more than 8,500 schools.

Addtionally, counselors create their own profiles that link to their student profiles. They can use Campus Steps as a workflow and communication tool, sending auto-reminders to students and parents. To register, visit www.campussteps.com.

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