Building the Classrooms of Tomorrow, Today

By Carsten Rhod Gregersen

It's up to educators to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for a new era of IoT-driven education.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stress test for education systems all around the world, and one for which the vast majority were not prepared. The overnight move from learning in the classroom to learning at the computer has seen schools scramble to take the educational experience online—and the results have been mixed. At the same time, however, the pandemic has suddenly forced education to embrace technology like never before.

In finding new ways to overcome the limitations of the pandemic, educators are looking at modern devices and solutions with renewed interest. The Internet of Things (IoT) is showing particular promise, as it offers students better access to learning materials and teachers the ability to measure student learning progress in real-time. As schools make their way back into physical classrooms, let's take a look at how the sudden educational embrace of technology and the move toward connected devices are likely to impact the sector in the coming years and beyond.

For Students, Teachers and Parents
The potential for IoT applications inside the classroom would be tough to understate. Consider wearable devices that determine when students are disengaged and whiteboards that record all notes taken in a class. Or think about smart microphones that recognize when a teacher mentions homework and updates students' planners accordingly. This is a far cry from the classroom of yesteryear.

 In fact, the chalkboard is already a relic of the past. More schools are opting for a smartboard in their classrooms to encourage interactive learning and visual education. Smartboards not only help teachers to deliver dynamic lectures and better explain abstract concepts, but can also display tests, homework and assignments. The aim of the game is to better engage students and subsequently improve their understanding of any given topic. SweetRush, for example, is an e-learning outfit that employs competitive games and animation to increase participation and retention.

In the end, more tech means more usable data. Connected devices are working to offer insight into a student's progress, including test results, end-of-term reports and peer reviews. More tablets, paired with data-analytics technology, help educators to monitor student attendance and activity during testing and classwork, and ultimately provide more agile and personalized instruction.

The move to total electronics is already being seen in higher education. Devices connected to the cloud allow professors to gather data about their students and then determine which ones need the most individual attention and care. Moreover, students with disabilities receive an improved learning experience. The ubiquitous availability of smartphones, improvements in consumer-based IoT engagement such as standalone digital assistants, greater affordability, and the ease of collecting real-time data are working to deliver an equitable learning experience for all students.

For Schools and Administrators
It is not only the educational experience that improves with the introduction of the IoT. Smart solutions and connected devices offer schools a high-level overview of everything, from security to temperature to attendance. The IoT can quickly determine who should be at school and who should not. Modern student identification cards, for example, can be linked with automated attendance-tracking systems to display absentees. Meanwhile, smarter surveillance cameras in schools, powered by artificial intelligence, can now detect threats faster by identifying weapons and learning the behaviors of persons acting suspiciously. EyeCloud.ai, for instance, specializes in manufacturing autonomous security solutions that detect people and recognize faces.

Then there is the smarter use of energy and utilities. Sensors understand when buildings are empty much better than any preset timer to automatically switch off heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. The reduced operating costs are impressive, with one school in Ohio saving more than $120,000 annually thanks to a Web-based system that controls all mechanical equipment inside its buildings. The savings continue as schools invest in reusable resources, such as computers, tablets and smartphones. An average school spends approximately $200,000 on paper annually, adding up to about 10 percent of most schools' budget, but reusable tech would completely eliminate that cost.

The Classrooms of Tomorrow
Schools, teachers and students have had no choice but to innovate in order to overcome during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the sudden shift to remote learning has only exposed major technological flaws in education. Schools did not have the right infrastructure in place, teachers were not properly trained for the new remote reality, and students were largely unaccustomed to learning in a tech-assisted environment.

The good news is that this pandemic clearly demonstrates the benefits of using more technology in education. Better yet, we have plenty of platforms and devices at our disposal today to build the classrooms of tomorrow. As with all things IoT, user privacy and security are important considerations as these devices enter school systems. One low-cost approach to ensure device security would be to create an IoT peer-to-peer connection between the server and device to ensure direct communication infrastructure.

With this in mind, however, educators should have no excuse for integrating better tech to teach the next generations. In fact, some experts claim that technology can improve education more than hiring and spending. It is now up to all educators to learn from this pandemic and best prepare for a new era of education.

Carsten Rhod Gregersen is the CEO and founder of Nabto, a P2P IoT connectivity provider that enables remote control of devices with secure end-to-end encryption.