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Creating a Connected Education Space

Introducing all the tech without all the fuss

Sep 2020

Creating a Connected Education Space

Creating a connected & modern education space from primary/kindergarten to high/secondary school that engages and excites students through the use of technology. Streamline the school infrastructure, keep students informed and reignite a passion for learning in an innovative setting.

Technology is complicated right?-Whether you are computer savvy or not, (by not, I mean googling “open facebook”).  There is an app for everything and the apps talk to each other. It's crazy when you think about what your phone or laptop can do these days. Think about your own home, you can manage the heating of your living room while you're on the bus commuting home; your "Alexa" speaks to your TV and your speakers. So it begs the question, why should it be any different in school? In a simple and smart manner we can make your education space modern. 

Making your education space (school/university) modern and fully connected

But how do we integrate all this technology or rather in simplified terms, how do you implement this in the school/university environment. Is it actually worth it or is it easier to remain in the days of whiteboards, assembly announcements or worse, a disgruntled teacher simply yelling a message at the entrance, not naming names, Mrs Davies.

In this guide we look at five key questions that will help those in the classroom to work out how and why to design a more connected education space. Then we will take a deep dive into applications and devises that will help you modernise your education space.

1. What do you want to achieve?

When implementing something new in the education industry, it can often seem like there are too many barriers to overcome. Want to know the silver lining? This question ensures you don’t spend money for the sake of spending money, or invest in a fad that might be irrelevant in six months' time, in theory, should make it easy to get cool new initiatives approved. This ensures that even when there's plenty of choice, the question will always be: what do you want to achieve?

If you want a smarter whiteboard that talks to your displays, other classrooms and online portals, why do you want it? Will it save you time, make parents better informed, or improve how students learn?

Try setting a goal for the implementation of a new device or service. Can you reason out a “SMART” goal based on the below?

Specific (simple, sensible, significant)

Measurable (meaningful, motivating)

Achievable (agreed, attainable)

Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)

Time-bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

For example, you may want to implement automated control of your classroom environment through heat, light and doorway monitoring. This would be a good way to manage the functions of the classroom you use every day (specific), and it could be measured in terms of how much electricity and gas you save (measurable). If there is one device to join them all up and be managed by a smartphone, it would be attainable for any teacher (achievable). Lastly, the output would be results-based (relevant) and it would save more money the earlier it was implemented (time-bound).

2. How do I make my school fit for the future?

With any connected space, there are also considerations to be made on what you put into place now vs what you might put into place in the future.

It’s all very well swapping out your whiteboards for digital screens, but in five years' time will those screens still be relevant? What if at that time, you need voice-activated or interactive screens instead? With any technology or system, you need to future-proof your organization. Think beyond the “now” benefits and into the future ones.

How many years of classes can this system support? Could it be used by a smaller group or a bigger one? A smart thermostat that controls the classroom could likely be used for years and upgraded cheaply or free of cost. Whereas apps, games and software are often only as good as their last upgrade and depend highly on the technology they are used on (smartphone, iPad, etc.).

It’s great to be thinking about how you can up-level your school now, but it’s even more effective to think what you can do now that will affect the future.

3. How will it affect students/teachers?

If the heart of modernising your education space is the data and how that data is used to become self sufficient. For example, a smart light could learn that no one ever enters the building before 7am, so it shuts down from 7pm-7am, thereby saving tons of dollars. To do this, the lighting sensor must collect data. That data is related to people (in this example, students and teachers).

At first glance, it seems perfectly acceptable that the light is only triggered when people are in the building. But when you break this down, the light is actually tracking the movement of every individual, student and teacher to monitor when they arrive and when they leave. If that was you or your child, would you be as open to it?

Many of these connected systems can be done anonymously - a count of bodies rather than faces, and yet there are still very real security concerns within education.

With any system that tracks people, students will need to be informed and parental consent ensured. If 100 students say yes, but one says no, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get off the starting block.

For that reason, it’s crucial to involve students, parents and teachers in the evolution of your school into a smart, connected space. Only then are you more likely to receive their buy-in into what may help improve the lives of everyone.

4. What will it cost or how can it save money?

Any technology about to rise to its peak is not going to be cheap. Yet with connected systems, unlike some technology trends, there are more affordable elements. Many energy companies will equip buildings with smart meters for free. Other times, you can add something simple to a system or product you already have to make it smarter without having to invest in a completely new infrastructure.

Lastly, you can often offset the cost against the monetary benefits. If you invest $100 in a smart lighting system, but save $500 per year on your electricity bill, you’re saving far more than you’ve spent.

5. What systems do you already have?

Related to the cost question is the idea that you can use and enhance systems you already own. Take digital signage as an example. How many TV screens do you already have sitting redundant, or playing the same content on loop, in your school or university? With a $20 media device like an Amazon Fire TV Stick, you can transfer a static screen into something far more impressive.

Once the screen has been made “smart,” it’s easy to show a dashboard of social media feeds, live news, project tools, departmental presentations, traffic information and image galleries. You can adapt the content depending on where it sits, the day of the week, and what’s going on at your school during that time.

It’s possible to use the screen for personalized welcome messaging, emergency notices or live broadcasts.

All from one simple screen.

Educators are nothing if not resourceful. It turns out that there’s quite a lot you can do to make a connected space out of things you already know and use.

Creating a connected space of the future

We hear a lot about the “connected space of the future” particularly in education, which seems a way off of implementing any of the connection-enabled devices so widely discussed. Which got us thinking: what are the applications that are relevant right now? The ones where with a few hundred dollars, someone willing and a bit of effort, you could have up and running in the classroom of today.

We’ve already looked at the connected education space of the future but if you’re interested in what could be done today or right now to connect the things in your classroom to the people using them, here are a few applications. 

Learning aids

One of the most effective ways to implement a connected system right now in your classroom is through learning aids. Take ScanMarker who make a digital highlighter that allows you to scan anything you pick up into your computer. Hello digital notes, quotes, research and feedback.

In most classrooms, notes are made manually and there’s not much connection between the books you read and the computer where you write about them. With a smart device like ScanMarker, an inefficient process becomes efficient, which is really what IoT-enabled classrooms are all about. 

Smart(er) whiteboards

The smart whiteboard. It was pretty special wasn’t it? You went from a static blackboard to a whiteboard that could produce digital documents. But now you have an even smarter whiteboard, or a smart whiteboard 2.0 as some are calling it.

One example is the Bounce whiteboard and app from IdeaPaint. Right now, even on a smart whiteboard, if you draw a diagram or create something manually, it has to be wiped away before you can start again.

The idea behind Bounce is that it saves all of your brainstorming sessions, answers and notes and stores them in the app where they can be reached at a later date. No longer do students have to scribble down notes from the board. Instead they can listen and participate, then access notes later through the Bounce app. 

These notes could be shared further too, with sick classmates, governing bodies, parents and local authority centres. Thereby bridging the gap between the offline experience in the classroom and the online user interface. 

Digital signage

Perhaps the easiest way to make your classroom smarter right now is through digital signage. The art of using TV screens to share content is not new, but is still widely under-utiliszed within education. 

All that’s needed to set it up is a TV screen, a smart device such as a $35 Amazon Fire Stick and a simple digital signage software platform that can cost as little as $20 per month. 

The applications are huge. Digital signage screens can be used to provide real time updates to students and staff, as well as safety notices and emergency information. They can share school social media feeds, wayfinding, class timetables and general information such as world news. 

For departmental feeds, the screens can share educational content, additional reading and even pop quizzes to keep minds occupied as students wait in the halls. 

The only downside, as one of our customers experienced, may be more congestion in the halls around the screens!


Smart classrooms

How smart are classrooms right now? Not very. 

In any industry, talks about making individual offices or colleges more energy efficient by linking up devices such as thermostats and lighting. These types of amenities, once made smarter, would be able to detect temperature, time of day, number of people in the room and more, all of which would allow them to adjust automatically to become more efficient. 

Schools such as The Council Rock School District in Pennsylvania have already implemented energy saving programs that allow them to save money through an IoT-infrastructure that monitors heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Just turning these off during vacation times has allowed them to save millions. 

Then you have the companies who are looking to make this process and the internet of things accessible to students themselves. Take Bosch, who used connected systems to share information on climate control and energy saving directly into the heart of schools. They created an image of Einstein in a grammar school in Austria, who would notify students and teachers each time there was a change in atmosphere. The painting would then go on to notify the students how they could adjust their conditions for maximum focus. 

These type of creative applications are available now and not only improve the efficiency of schools, but teach students at the same time. 

Artificial intelligence

For students with disabilities or limited capabilities, there are connected systems available now which lend an element of artificial intelligence. 

One example is Microsoft’s Seeing Artificial Intelligence app which can run on the student’s smartphone to provide a play-by-play account of what’s going on around them. Anyone partially-sighted would enjoy a more inclusive role within their school community. 

Gamification of object-led learning

There are software products already available that help educate through gamification. One example is the smart Kolibree software that uses a game to teach children how to brush their teeth.

The game has 3D motion sensors that track brushing behaviors, that can then be monitored by parents. This data is also then collected to gain an overview of children’s brushing habits as a whole. 

In the classroom, the opportunity to teach through similar methods, where real world actions are linked and measured, could help students to learn faster and in a much more visual way.  

Examination monitoring

As well as smart everyday learning there are also systems available that make the examination process more efficient. One example is Examination Zone, where biometric security is used to identify a learner as they log on to an examination system. 

Once the student has answered the questions, the answers are pushed to a secure server and are also checked to ensure validity and security conditions. This already begins to remove many of the manual processes associated with exams and allows the process to be streamlined and more secure from cheating. 


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