The Internet of Education Things (part 2)

Education_IoT_invertedThis is Part 2 of a 2-part post. See Part 1 here.

So, what ought the more sensible and, I would hope, somewhat more progressive, amongst us in education be looking to the Internet of Things (IoT) for in relation to learning and teaching?

I do not have all the answers, but I do think I can at least raise some apposite issues and questions in relation to this burgeoning technology and its place in education. We can look at it from the perspective of the institution and the teacher, and then from the perspective of the learner (a different perspective in many respects since the learner is no longer bound to the imperatives of whatever institution they happen to attend in the way that students traditionally have been).

First, instead of looking to IoT as a means of turning the educational institution into some kind of overactive, all-seeing all-tracking environment, watching and listening and sensing and measuring and feeding back and determining actions, we should be looking to the Internet of Things primarily as a tool to be used in the curriculum itself, and in pedagogy. We have to look at IoT from the teacher’s and the learner’s POV first before we even begin to contemplate it from the over-eager and overweening administrator’s viewpoint. How, then, can IoT be introduced into the classroom as a teaching tool, as part of the overall learning environment, as a component of blended learning perhaps, and as an aid to pedagogy? These should be the starting point of every teacher looking at the Internet of Things for the first time, and should therefore also be the starting point for every enlightened administrator who knows his or her job is preeminently about the learning and not about mere management or control.

Secondly, and related to the first point, every teacher and lecturer and professor (and educational researcher) coming to IoT should be thinking about the learning outcomes they want to achieve, and then shaping IoT to help them achieve those outcomes (at least to begin with, since the new affordances of IoT will become clear in time and the use of the technology then becomes an ongoing dialectic, a constant interplay, between pedagogy and technology). With that mindset, it should be less easy for those who seek to take the reductive approach outlined in Part 1 of the post to implement it without any forethought as to the eventual learning outcomes. If we fail in this and we succumb to the excitement of a new technology, implementing it carelessly and without careful planning, we will spend the next decade (or two) trying to undo the poor decisions we make over the next few years.

Lastly, we also need to look at this from the learner’s perspective. It might appear that the previous two points ARE from the learner’s perspective, but such is the dominance of the concept of the school and teacher-led instruction in our lives we too often forget that learning is essentially a personal human effort undertaken by each individual learner, often, though by no means necessarily, in the company of, and in collaboration with, other learners. How should we all, as individual self-directed learners, look at IoT?

Each learner should take the opportunity (or for the youngest learners, be given the opportunity) to learn about IoT, to come to know its capabilities over time, to understand its limitations and its dangers, and to be able to use it in a self-directed way to enhance their own studies and to personalize their own learning. From this perspective, it is important, for instance, that the possibilities offered by the Internet of Things becomes, at some level, something that students either learn about in school and/or are able to learn about from other sources (the Web, of course, being the main path to such learning). There will be no clear right or wrong way to do this (nor should there be), just as there have been strong arguments over the past three decades about the rights and wrongs of teaching programming to kids. But schools, districts, local government of education and national governments should give serious consideration to the resources that will be needed over time, as IoT itself matures and develops, to offer up the fruits of this new technology (new technologies, plural, really) to learners of all ages and at all stages, including the informal learner at home or in the workplace.

In this scenario, the Internet of Things becomes something that learners do for themselves and to themselves, and not have done to them, as in the dreadful top-down drivel outlined in the Deloitte piece mentioned in Part 1. It also, as a happy consequence, gives learners as citizens the information they need in their lives to recognise when the Internet of Things might be a threat to their privacy or personal well-being.

The Market Perspective….

Given all of these considerations, those businesses looking to become serious players in the Internet of Things, from the giant corporates to the hopeful startups, need to take a little time to consider the education market as something completely different in kind from whatever other enterprise or public sector markets they choose to play in. Just as an education network is not simply an enterprise network by another name, so the Internet of Things in education will be a very different beast from IoT in other spheres of activity.

If you want your business to serve the real interests of education, ask yourself the questions below. I will leave it to those reading this piece to work out the most appropriate answers to each, but be sure that your answers will determine whether your incursion into the Education-IoT market is likely to be to education’s long term benefit or merely for revenue and profit, and hang the consequences.

  • To what extent will your product or service benefit the self-identified needs of the student or the teacher as opposed to the institutional or administrative needs of those in authority?
  • To what extent is your product or service primarily deploying IoT as a means to increase the monitoring, measuring or control of students?
  • IoT is a built around the notion that we as human beings are willing to surrender some aspects of our attention to the intelligence of the machines or the network. How sure are we that the aspects of human attention in the teaching and learning processes that our product or service is  replacing or augmenting are actually desired by the students and teachers affected?
  • To what extent does our product or service retain or give up control over the IoT deployment? In other words, do those affected by our IoT product or service have any control over how it operates and therefore how it affects them?

Finally, one more question, separate from those above because it is a question that needs to be answered by any entity looking to operate effectively long term in the IoT space, and not just in education. The question is this:

  • Have you fully considered the data that will be produced by your IoT deployment? Where will it reside, who can access it, how can it be used, how should it NOT be able to be used, how will it be retained for future use, and are there limits to how much data your system can cope with?

If you don’t know the answer to this final question, or your answers to the questions above are not fully formed, then you have a problem.

Just keep at the forefront of your plans that education is different!