Preliminary research on how the Internet of Things will impact education may lead you to believe students will soon be connected to an iPad, RFID scanning objects and getting their own personalized curriculum delivered to their desk. It’s a dreamy new world of individually tailored lessons. It might be prudent to remember how computers were supposed to completely alter the way students learn decades ago. Yet anyone who took a “computer 101” class in high school may know tech in the classroom is not the futuristic bonanza we want it to be.

Teaching is not an easy job. Only half of the work involves class time and, depending on where that classroom is located, teachers may have very different objectives. Of course they want students to learn, but a much larger education system and government often dictate the “how.”

Many of the daydreams for IoT in education involve students taking advantage of new technologies to complete cool new projects. Students in science classes might use RFID to tag sample specimens in the wild so they can take notes without leaving the classroom. Textbooks could be scanned to receive instant additional resources and assignments. Despite the fact the IoT is above all else about creativity, these common suggestions do not do it justice. When textbooks came with CDs of additional materials and assignments, who even used them? This is the dead-end of IoT in the classroom. Once the cool factor is gone, it isn’t so revolutionary.

Connectivity Must Be Used Creatively

The truth is, connectivity in schools is about far more than making lives “easier.” Microsoft boasts that their newest products can start-up 80% faster, saving teachers time. This is fabulous, but that in itself does not mean a better education. Real changes will come from fostering a better—not faster—learning climate. Thus far, better connected computers have mostly been making the work of teachers easier. Teachers are able to save time finding, connecting and implementing new resources thanks to their connected technologies. But that is only the beginning.

Employees at Bosch have done their part to improve the school “atmosphere.” Climate control and energy saving measures are some of the places the IoT will hopefully be affecting students. Bosch has taken an image of Einstein and turned him into a visual representation of climate. When the temperature or air changes, so does Einstein. The product was tested at the Bundesgymnasium Dornbirn grammar school in Austria with great results. Students were always aware of their Einstein. It helped notify them and teachers about minor shifts, enabling them to always create the ideal atmosphere and focus better. Students and teachers spend some eight hours in school every day, and these minor shifts in weather can drastically alter the mood. Furthermore, the Einstein actively taught students about climate, and even gave them a chance to get involved. It’s creative, highly interactive and practical designs like these that will prove useful over time.

What about the non-techies? Those who don’t identify with extreme interconnectivity? English teacher Robyn L. Howton told Education Week how she prefers to let students gain experience through doing rather than listening. Her classes begin with a brief introduction and then the students are given tasks. Using iPads, groups begin preparing and creating presentations to be shared with the class. Though this is a huge step forward, it is is hardly the sexy over-connectivity we have come to expect in the year 2015. The class researches social topics, most notably the Ferguson protests, or related subjects that spark their curiosity. The ability of technology to bring the outside world so quickly into the classroom is one of its greatest powers when used wisely. Howton’s classroom, however, should also be taken with a grain of salt:

“I decided my personal goal was to turn my classroom into a model so other teachers who want to start down this pathway have someone to come and [observe].”

Not every teacher is the same, and not every class can function like Howton’s. That’s why developers and teachers will have to get creative. With a combination of obvious heroes like Smartboards and Google docs with new, niche technologies like Bosch’s Eintein and nerdy kits that teach how to code or engineer, teachers and students will slowly have access to all kinds of learning tools.

Technology Is A Life Skill

Others want to take the IoT in the classroom to a much higher level. They want to focus not on utilizing technology, but teaching it. Students will be early adaptors to new technologies. This is one primary reason that eight UK schools are running an £800k pilot program to anchor education in connectivity. Such programs are about preparing for the future, and creating minds that can move through the complex IoT with ease. Surprisingly, much of their funding went straight into creating an appropriate cloud. Connected tech creates ample data, and it is vital that it be easy to share, store and access. The program is also deeply rooted in the desire to share knowledge and data between schools. What one class learns could be shared with other students. The exact usefulness of such data could be unlocked through proper data analysis, or simply creating new channels to communicate and socialize in schools.

The UK hopes to eventually roll this program out to far more schools, but are currently stuck on testing and cutting back costs—the latter being one of the most dangerous parts of these endeavors. Finding funds to bring in effective changes will be a hard sell in many countries where schools are already facing plenty of funding problems. Furthermore, the divide between rich and poor areas is not going to be an easy or happy discussion when it comes to IoT implementations. It may be easier to get IoT into schools in the form of cutting energy costs. Better automation and monitoring can save money, supplying real-world proof that the results outweigh the costs. When the “results” come in the intangible form of a student’s (often untestable) knowledge, it will be much harder for cash-strapped schools to find funding. There will be no way to make this shift easily.

The IoT Will Shape Education…Eventually

Successful integration of the Internet of Things into the education system will come slowly, and in very nuanced ways. Some schools may use it to save money or harness data; some will prepare students to be highly tech-literate; others will find creative uses for their specific needs. The dream of personalized, detailed instructions and seamlessly interactive technology will run head-to-head with the funding issues as well as current test-based accountability systems. Shifting the focus on education to include the IoT will mean a massive shift in understanding what education means and the companies that benefit will be the creative minds that can create practical, reasonable products the teachers, students and administrators can get behind.

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