Imagine your local school doesn’t have a single classroom; children are all connected to the internet and the teachers have been replaced by apps.
It’s a scenario that’s not as far-fetched as you might believe. Schools are already incredibly tech-savvy with smartboards, tablets and faster internet becoming the norm – and networking specialist Cisco expects IoT (the internet of things, or connected devices and objects) to have a greater influence on schools.
“The classroom of the future may not even be a room,” says Sarah Eccleston, director of enterprise networks and IoT at Cisco UK and Ireland.
“It can become much more of a remote virtual learning environment where you can use video much more greatly, and everything and everybody can be connected to the internet. So that means you can conduct training at a distance. You can bring in experts on demand. There could be one topic but thousands of pupils that can learn the topic in the way that best suits them from a library of content.
“We have to move away from this idea of a physical classroom with a desk at the front, one teacher and rows of desks and children. The teacher might not even be a person – it could be an app on a tablet. Lessons may be conducted in a way where the teacher is more of a coach.”
Steve Woollett, Cisco’s head of collaboration for the public sector in Ireland, asks: “Can video really be better than being there? Well if you’re sat watching someone getting a haircut in real life, you can only see one view. With video, you’ve got a shot of the front, back, sides, top – you can truly see how they’re getting their hair cut.
“So in a hair cutting class, for example, rather than making notes with pens and paper, students take out their phones, take a picture of the whiteboard and carry on watching. It’s a really simple but effective way of capturing that information.”
While ‘live’ lessons haven’t quite become the norm (yet), new technology is emerging all the time. Schools already use a host of products from computers to projectors and even 3D printers, while other devices like robots and an ‘iWall’ are on the horizon.
More than 200 UK schools are even using a customised version of the popular computer game Minecraft, with the idea that its expansive world will help children with creative writing.
The Future Classroom Lab in Brussels is also experimenting with the teaching of the future, with its green screen broadcasting studio, plus a whiteboard that can be extended horizontally for group work.
So how will the internet of things change classrooms in the future? The potential in this area is huge, with teachers able to track changes in the quality of soil by connecting a special sensor device, for example. This could have an impact on science lessons as children grow plants. But it won’t just be objects that connect to the internet.
“The teachers are connected to the internet, the things you’re teaching children about are connected to the internet, so you can have more interactive ways of learning, and also you can start to connect some of the pupils to the internet too,” explains Sarah Eccleston.
“And for those with learning difficulties or ADHD, a headset has been created with sensors that can connect to the internet and detect brain activity. It can see when that pupil is concentrating and actually learning. So this can help improve the standard of education.
“You can also connect things not just to the internet but to each other. So now you can have a collaboration between schools over certain topics. You can start to do better project work, for example you can connect those with archeology interests together and connect them to sites and digs, and connect those with the same skill level and interests together. Even if they’re in different schools and countries.”
But with all this data comes a number of safety and security issues.
Steve Woollett says: “There are apps now where head teachers or supervisors can log on via their PC or Mac and see in real time what kids are seeing on their screen. And if there’s something inappropriate, they can send them a message or cut it off.”
Sarah Eccleston adds: “It’s also about physical security. Cisco has other technology that connects to the internet like cameras and sensors. Security officers can pre-configure the school’s cameras remotely, so they can monitor crime, and they’ve got really good coverage of entrants and exits, parking lots and storage facilities.”
When will live lessons and the internet of things in schools go mainstream?
“Well, the technology is there now – it’s a just a case of more schools wanting to adopt it,” Eccleston explains.
“The connection of everything to the internet will happen in the classroom as it happens in other areas of the community as well. It’s at the stage at the moment where it’s starting to happen, and although we can’t predict when it will happen fully, when it does it will be a tidal wave.”
6 NEW TECH PRODUCTS FOR SCHOOLS
Created by Clifford Dax, the Bakerboard is a traditional prototype board paired with an electronics suite.
Designed for science classes, students can play about with the oscilloscope, spectral display, function generator and power supply to learn more about circuits.
The Bakerboard was successfully funded on Kickstarter in July, receiving twice the amount of its $5,000 target.
After the huge success of the Raspberry Pi, there has been a number of other mini PCs that have followed.
The latest one, the Hummingbird Duo, comes in the form of robotics kits specifically designed to take students through a series of levels, rather than just giving them a mini PC and letting them figure out what to do with it.
So far the Oculus Rift has mainly been aimed at gamers, but new research from game development studio Dubit has found that students aged between seven and 12 years old want to use the headset in schools.
“Without prompting, all children said they thought virtual reality would be great in their schools,” said head of research Peter Robinson. “They thought it would make lessons more interesting and allow them to take ‘virtual field trips’.
As programming becomes a more important part of the curriculum, tech companies are looking to make products for specific age groups. KinderLab Robotics has produced the KIBO for children aged four to seven years old. It’s a robot kit designed to look and work like a traditional wooden toy, requiring no PC, tablet or smartphone.
The child can create a series of instructions using wooden blocks, which are scanned by a robot that then performs the actions.
Recently launched in Japan, Pepper is an ‘emotionally aware’ robot designed to perform a range of tasks.
Its ‘emotional engine’ is powered by a cloud-based AI system and can gauge the emotions of people around it. For example, if a child is sad, Pepper can recognise this and try to cheer it up. Manufacturer Aldebaran has already deployed 5,000 robots worldwide across various research, education and care programs.
As tablets and interactive whiteboards become commonplace in the classroom, it may only be a matter of time until interactive video walls such as MultiTaction’s iWall make their way to schools.
The iWall is described as a social experience, designed to get users collaborating with each other. The iWall comprises of 12 55-inch ultra thin displays with 24MP resolution.