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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