Imagine a classroom containing 25 "devices," each at its own desk, constantly sending data back to a school's servers. Now, consider that these Internet-connected "things" aren't computers — they're students.
"People are used to thinking of themselves as consumers of information. But now, they could become the sensors," says Joe Skorupa, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
For years, technologists have used the term "Internet of Things" (IoT) to describe a world of connected objects. But Cisco Systems is pushing to broaden the concept to the "Internet of Everything," encompassing not only physical objects but also data, processes and people, says Renee Patton, the company's director of U.S. public-sector education.
Patton envisions classes in which students wear connected devices that could potentially be used to assess their abilities and even allow teachers to monitor student engagement by tracking eye movements. It's difficult to predict how wearable devices might enhance learning, but one application she imagines involves using voice-recognition devices in a foreign language class.
"Wouldn't it be great to be able to figure out that 25 of the 30 students were having a hard time conjugating verbs, and only two of the 30 didn't understand how to use articles?" Patton asks. "I might then spend an hour of class time on verbs and do a five-minute video on articles for the web. To me, that's the power of Big Data."
Many potential uses for connected devices impact facilities and operations. When you think about most any object having an IP address, Skorupa explains, school officials can use the technology to answer simple questions such as, "Where's the projector?"
School officials also could use sensors to generate data and analyze use patterns — tracking buses and sending alerts to students telling them when to go to the curb so they don't have to wait in the cold, for example, Skorupa adds.
Security Solution, Security Risk
There are a lot of hypotheticals when it comes to IoT in K–12. But Los Alamos (N.M.) Public Schools is already leveraging the technology in important ways.
According to Network Administrator Ted Galvez, connected security cameras are helping the district monitor its campuses. "If there's motion detected and I'm at home, I can log in and say, 'Everything looks OK,' or, 'No, why are vehicles parked there?' " he says.
Connecting objects in this way also saved the district the expense of fencing in large areas. "It kind of creates an automated solution that helps us avoid those other costs," he explains.
But more connected objects also means more opportunities for hackers. Instead of pulling a fire alarm, a student who wants to get out of an exam might attempt to shut down the school's boilers from his notebook computer, for example.
Even more worrisome is the prospect that someone could hack into a student-worn sensor to identify his or her location. "Frankly, there are aspects of the technology that are a bit scary," Skorupa warns.