SmartBoards and SmartIDs? The Internet of Things in Schools

iotIt’s 8am and 8 year old Anna is ready for school. As she gets on her school bus, she swipes her student ID which contains a RFID chip. A text is sent to her parents and teacher, telling them that she is safely in the bus and on her way to school. After arriving at school, Anna’s taps her ID at her classroom door to sign in. Her teacher, freed from the burden of taking daily attendance, has already begun to help her student’s log into their chromebooks and begin their individualized daily math practice. After math, Anna’s teacher pulls up a kid’s news website on the interactive whiteboard and calls different students to come to the board and underline key ideas. Anna sits near the back and can’t see the board very well. She quickly loses interest and begins chatting to her neighbor. Her teacher sees she’s off task and deducts a point from Anna on their classroom management system. Anna sighs, knowing that her parents log in and check how many points she earned or lost each day. The system begins to identify a trend: that she is often off task during whole group lessons. This information will travel with her to the next grade, and her teacher next year will have access to it before they meet Anna in person.

At lunch, Anna chooses chocolate milk instead of low fat. Her lunch choices are sent to her teacher’s classroom management system (to help identify trends between food choices and behavior) and to her parents (who monitor if she makes healthy choices). After she eats, she heads out to play with the other kids. Her RFID enabled ID sends information to the teacher about who Anna plays with at lunch, and the teacher uses the information to plan effective student groupings for the next lesson and be aware of possible bullying situations. When Anna returns to the classroom, her teacher has all the students put on headbands that will track their brain activity and engagement in their reading lesson. Everyone is excited about the new technology they are trying out. To end the day, Anna’s class goes to PE where they are graded on data from heartrate monitors. Anna then packs up, and taps her ID card on the door of the bus to let her parents know she’s on her way home.

The story I just told may sound futuristic, but the technology and tracking systems I described are already being used in schools across America. They are described in the articles I read this week: How Will the Internet of Things Impact Education? from EDtech magazine, A day in the life of a data mined kid from Marketplace Podcast, and Connecting the Classroom with the Internet of Things from EdSurge. Each of these articles took had a different slant, but all agreed that the “Internet of Things” (IOT) has a lot of potential to both help and hurt public education.   

The Potential:

The IOT has the potential to free up time for teachers and create more time for meaningful instruction. The EdSurge article writes that of the approximately 1025 hours kids spend in school, over 308 hours are lost to non-instructional tasks such as classroom management or taking attendance. With RFID ID cards or wristbands and computerized classroom management systems, technology takes care of these tasks or makes them more efficient. Kids stay safer too, since their whereabouts are always known.

IOT can also help teachers identify trends that can lead to better instruction. Data from computerized classroom management systems can show patterns of when and where students act out or get off task and helps teachers fix the problem. Using headbands that monitor students brain activity literally gives teachers an opportunity to see what’s going on in their student’s heads, and help the students who may need assistance but are too shy to ask for it. Technology can also identify connections between the types of food kids eat at lunch, and their academic performance later in the day.This information can be passed from teacher to teacher, making it easier for teachers to create meaningful lessons for students from the first day of school. IOT has a lot of potential to optimizing teaching and learning.

The Problems:

One of the largest problems with using IOT in education is the risk that comes with collecting a tremendous amount of personal data on every student. There’s a chance that sensitive data could end up in the wrong hands. Things get very messy when a child’s disciplinary data, health data, social data, economic data, and even brain data are all tied together with the student’s ID.

All this data creates a picture of the student that might not be completely accurate. Think of Anna in the story. If Anna’s teacher didn’t realize that Anna was off task because she couldn’t see the board during reading, she might think that Anna is a poor reader and attach a label in her data that will travel with her till graduation. Having data from previous teachers on individual students gives teachers less incentive to get to know their students and their needs for themselves. Because teachers input a lot of the data, they might creating or upholding biases about their students without realizing it. Of course, you don’t need smart devices to have and make decisions based on biases. However the IOT and smart devices scale up the impact of these biases.  

There’s also the issue of the digital divide. Kids from wealthy families are more likely to have access to technology at home. This gives them an advantage when it comes to testing or working with technology in the classroom. Their data may report that they are better at math and reading than disadvantaged kids, but really they might just be better at using the computers and tablets used to assess math and reading.

IOT has a lot of potential to better classrooms, but it’s important that teachers, parents, and school districts all consider how the risk involved with collecting large amounts of data on every student.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s