The Internet of Things (IoT) is a revolutionary change taking place right under our noses that promises to transform a myriad of sectors including education. It not only seeks to augment traditional human-to-human classroom interactions, but also challenges education in a broader sense.
IoT invokes opposing emotions. While technology evangelists are placing their bets on IoT, integrated objects, and an automated world, others are not too thrilled with the development, considering the privacy threats that it poses and finances that it demands.
What is IoT?
IoT is the process of equipping machines and everyday objects with sensors and allowing them to communicate with each other via the Internet and the Local Area Network (LAN). The scale of this is massive.
There could be billions of objects connected with each other through the internet sending data back and forth. According to a research by Juniper, the number of IoT devices connected at a time can “almost triple” from 13.4 billion in 2015 to 38 billion in 2020.
While the Internet changed human-to-human contact globally, IoT aims to innovate the human-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication. The global integration that IoT envisages is unprecedented.
The advancement in cloud computing, integrated networks, high speed internet and 4G/5G internet protocols have enabled internet to permeate into almost every nook and crony of our physical space. That means more and more objects can be integrated via the internet.
From refrigerators that keep the grocery in check to IP cameras that allow you to monitor your home via your smartphone from anywhere in the world (so long as you have internet), IoT transformation is quickly gaining pace.
IoT in Education
Education sector has already been disrupted through the internet with the advent of online and distant learning, learning management systems such as Blackboard, and full-fledged virtual universities.
IoT aims to take this a step farther. While the internet innovated and amplified the traditional human-to-human learning experience, IoT aims to introduce machines and objects into the mix.
According to a research study, “IoT in Education Market” by MarketsandMarkets, the global market size is expected to “grow from $4.8 billion in 2018 to $11.3 billion by 2023.”
The money is certainly flowing in, but the question is, what kind of problems does IoT solve for education?
What Education Problems does IoT Solve?
There are many immediate problems and gaps in the education that IoT aims to solve.
- Data Collection
IoT provides instructors and the management with humongous resource of student data at their fingertips. If the IoT in Education progresses as planned, it won’t be long before every aspect of a classroom is integrated with each other.
According to the research paper titled: “The Effects of the Internet of Thing (IoT) on Education Business Model” by IEEE, IoT will allow us to gather data and manage four key areas: “energy management and real time ecosystem monitoring, monitoring student's healthcare, classroom access control and improving teaching and learning.”
A very simple example is application of wearable RFID for automatically recording student’s attendance. If a certain student is performing week, then a teacher can easily correlate the date with his/her level of attendance. In addition to that, the system can also send automated notices to the parents if their child has a weak attendance record.
All in all, the potential of data collection is vast.
- Personalized Learning
One of the biggest hurdles with the typical education system is the lack of flexibility in the course work. The course is the same for each and every student. The human-to-human interaction in a classroom space is collective and does not take into account the individual pace and needs of the student.
Building on the idea of Big Data collection, with IoT each student can be evaluated and monitored on an individual basis. Weaker students may be granted a modified course work that caters to them individually to bring them up to speed. On top of that, the aggregate data can guide the instructors to modify the coursework on the go depending on the collective class needs.
- More Human-to-Machine Interaction
A traditional classroom setting comprises of human-to-human interaction. While this is more intimate and builds stronger relationships with students, it is not very efficient. A single instructor for a class of students is inadequate. It is impracticable and a resource heavy task to guide each and every student individually, let alone the fact that is economically unviable.
Furthermore, students are migrating from textbook to digital devices. Tablets, smartphones, and digital books are the new medium of learning. All this makes classrooms and education sector ripe for IoT transformation.
Here human-to-machine interaction can be greatly beneficial. With this form of communication, students can learn at their own pace and at the place of their choosing. Interconnected devices like smart pens, tablets, and smart boards can enhance the distribution of learning material from teachers to students and vice versa.
Thus IoT has the potential to not only save time and physical resources, but also human resources all the while maintaining a better standard of teaching.
Schools are unfortunately very soft targets for attackers; therefore, a need for a robust security system in school cannot be understated. IoT can most certainly enhance the security apparatus available to the staff and the students.
The application of facial recognition, remote RFID checks and GPS tracking devices can detect and deny any potential intruders. Besides, as the Artificial Intelligence (AI) gets smarter, the devices may even recognize students/staff with malicious intents and deny them before any potential damage is carried out within the campus.
One important thing to realize here is that IoT and AI are both interconnected subjects. While IoT enables the machines to collect data, AI enables machines to aggregate it, understand it and use it. Both technologies run parallel to each other.
Potential Pitfalls of IoT in Education
Not everyone is super excited about the proliferation of interconnected devices. There are some serious issues that need addressing.
This is the most obvious issue. There is an adage among the hackers “Nothing is Safe”. As long as your devices are connected to the internet, nothing is safe. The WannaCry Ransomware of 2017 was is a prime example of how unsafe the digital space is.
However, besides the potential hacking threats, data leaks to third parties are also not uncommon. The recent cases of Facebook facing charges of personal data leaks to third party apps is a cause of worry and does not suggest a bright future for an interconnected world.
Currently a single breach in a device can easily be isolated. For example, if your USB Flash Drive catches a Virus, it can be isolated and cleaned pretty easily. However, with an integrated network, a single breach can spread like wildfire.
- Fuels the Global Digital-Divide
[Image Source: International Telecommunications Union]
IoT can significantly fuel the Global Digital Divide even further. This terms describes the disparities between developed countries that have a dynamic internet availability and the developing countries that are far behind.
IoT infrastructure is expensive. While richer educational institutions would have no trouble adapting it, the schools in poorer and rural areas would be deprived of it. As a result, it can fuel global inequality.
Besides the Global Digital Divide, IoT can fuel Digital Divide within a country itself as richer regions and social strata benefit from this technology first hand while the poorer regions and lower social strata are left deprived.
In order to make IoT equitable in education, it will have to be economical enough for a majority of the global institutions and not just catered to the rich.
- Financing Issues
Financing is another hurdle. Government expenditure on Education is already stretched to its limit in most countries around the world. Plus, education isn’t really the sector that sees significant improvement in budget increase every fiscal year. It is general knowledge that education is kept on the back burner since it is not the topic that wins votes.
Information Technology hardware can be expensive and IoT infrastructure can demands a lot of it. To implement IoT, either government or private investments may need to subsidize it.
Only time will tell how IoT ultimately impacts education, much as with society itself, as the digitization of the world around continues to expand and evolve.