Internet of things

Game changer for education? 

How can Internet of Things (IoT) be used in schools? Uma Shankar Singh looks at the substantial benefits and some of the issues that must be thought through.

What is the Internet of Things?

The internet of things (IoT) is a term coined by Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, in 1999. Although can refer to any kind of connectivity,  it is increasingly used to describe the network connectivity and computing capability of machines and devices with a variety of sensors which collect and use data without much external human intervention. Things like cars, security cameras, ventilation systems and kitchen appliances.

Being connected and sharing data

There is nothing new about being connected and sharing data. We do it all the time when we look up a route on Google Maps or ‘Google’ an idea or question. The answers we get are the result of a huge amount of information we have all shared with a browser like Chrome or a Search Engine like Google, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Sharing and using data in education

We are also familiar with standardised assessment systems, Learning Management and Learning Content Management Systems such as Moodle and Seesaw which all rely on the use of huge amounts of shared data. These programs were a direct result of the collection of data in the form of comments and opinions from individuals from various sources which were redefined to fill gaps in someone’s learning, to track student progress, align content with assessments or to track a student’s interaction with a school.

Opening up potential

These programmes are changing our lives, and we’ve got used to them, but what other areas of school operations should we be looking at, for which ‘the Internet of Things’ could be useful and what are the issues involved?

As to why we should be looking at these things seriously now, I go back to 2005 and to Steve Ballmer, former chief executive officer of Microsoft when he talked about opening up the potential of an organisation:

“The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential”.

So, as it develops and is applied to an increasing number of sytems, what kind of potential is IoT opening up in schools? Here are five important, but very different areas to think about:

1. Sustainable energy usage

Smart air-conditioning and thermostatic radiator valve-based heating systems (LifeSmart-Smart IoT) along with passive infrared or PIR based lighting that integrate with systems from providers such as WAGO or DEFA not only provide an efficient and intelligent atmosphere for optimal learning, but are also great entry points for discussion with students regarding positive outcomes of Internet of Things (IoT).

2. Student/ Faculty Safety

Surveillance cameras, RFID (Radio Frequency ID) student cards, sensor-based fire alarms, biometrics, wireless locks and entry systems in school facilities have changed the way security protocols and workflow procedures are implemented in schools, and bring benefits of speed and efficiency.

3. Cyber security

However, constant data interaction of security devices via routers and networks also means that they are vulnerable to cybercrime and breaches. If you want to know about using IoT securely in education in more depth, see the Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise PDF about secure infrastructure and IoT containment.

4. Innovative Research Based Learning (RBL)

The use and emergence of a number of automated IoT systems in international schools increasingly means that there is sufficient shared data about student preferences and interests on the cloud to help new platforms to direct students to new ideas, new learning and new outcomes that relate not only to their cognitive abilities but also to areas that may really excite them. As a result, organizations like, Coursera, Udemy simply know more about student preferences via their shated data and can therefore offer an extensive range of skills and courses both for educators and students as part of a range of personalized learning experiences.

5. Systems integration

Coding protocols developed for IoT now offer schools the possibility of integrating a wide range of different platforms with each other. Even though it’s unrealistic for workflow, learning, administrative or security products to achieve full inter-operability between various platforms, the automation and standards that IoT systems prioritize makes it easier for IT departments to integrate different paltforms and so achieve  considerable flexibility for the future when choosing different educational platforms.

Issues and questions

Although there are some remarkable benefits to be gained from using IoT in the educational sphere, there are legal and ethical questions in addition to cyber-security issues that need to be thought through. IoT relies on the availability of data – our data. The more systems in place at school, the more data is being shared with the cloud. How safe is it?

To be used safely and with thought

Developments in IoT technology will always run ahead of the protocols, national and international laws that are designed to protect the user – whether a school or an individual. Do we really know how our data is being used? Do we know that we are sharing data? How is our data being used? Where does the data we use come from?

These are discussions that school heads should be having with their IT departments, providers and even their lawyers. However, I go back to Steve Balmer’s idea of ‘releasing potential’. IoT tools are there to be used and are potentially transformative. However, an understanding of the context in which they are being used is essential.

IoT is a bit like a chemistry lab – no good school should be without it, but everyone has to know how to use it safely.


Uma Shankar Singh is a Librarian, Digital Literacy Coach and teacher of IT. He likes to read about human psychology, photograph wildlife and landscapes and research on trending library topics. He can be contacted at; or click his picture for his LinkedIn Profile. He currently teaches IT at the International German School in Ho Chi Minh City.


FEATURE IMAGE: by jeferrb from Pixabay

Support Images:  by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash & Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Further reading