Education gets smart: how the IoT is changing our schools

Education gets smart: how the IoT is changing our schools
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New online Learning Management Systems are opening up distance learning to more students than ever, but IT security remains a key concern.

New and exciting Internet of Things (IoT) applications are making our world more efficient and connected than ever. We are seeing new and innovative IoT applications appear across various industries. One sector where the IoT has the potential for influencing radical change is in schools. From reception to university, we are seeing the use of connected devices such as laptops, iPad’s, smart projectors and digital pens become increasingly common among educators and students alike.

About the author

Martin Hodgson, Head of UK and Ireland, Paessler AG

Not only are these connected tools important for enhancing learning experience, they also give access to new and non-traditional methods of learning that include cross campus digital collaboration; as well as flexible, long distance learning for students who cannot access a classroom. Outside of teaching tools, the IoT can also be used to monitor and adjust environmental factors such as temperature and humidity to ensure the optimal comfort and productivity of both students and teachers.

Moving towards connected learning

While the IoT is already revolutionizing the way we teach in schools, there are a number of actions school IT departments have to take in order to seamlessly integrate IoT technologies into the classroom. Failure to prepare properly may result in more disruption than reward. 

The challenge for many schools is that the majority of existing IT infrastructure was designed and built for a less connected age. Now, administrators need robust monitoring tools in place to ensure they can diagnose and solve network issues before a user notices any kind of problem.

An IoT device is only as strong as the network that supports it

It is important to keep in mind that the IoT is not as new as one may think. Not every connected device is the latest and greatest technology from industry-leading companies. Some devices may use outdated firmware or are connected via a small computer like Raspberry Pi. This variation in IoT devices can prove a challenge for IT administrators who require a comprehensive understanding of the connectivity requirements for each device in order to develop solutions that allow for IoT integration. 

Further, as IoT networks in schools grow and become more complex, the risk of disruption or downtime is likely if admins lack the visibility to continually monitor for hardware and software issues. On a school campus where devices may be spread out across a large area for example, downtime may be further compounded by the extra time it takes to physically access and service remote infrastructure. This can put extra strain on already stretched school IT departments, which may have less resources than your average, IT department.

Avoid being a soft target

A further concern when it comes to the IoT is that schools are soft bellied targets for cybercriminals. A recent report showed that as many as one in five schools have been attacked. Today’s hackers are both fearless and creative, a dangerous combination for school IT departments where the safety and security of students is of the utmost importance. Anything with an IP address can be hacked, and the IoT widens the threat vector. For educators, it is vital that security is the first priority when incorporating the IoT into learning. 

An IoT network is only as strong and secure as its weakest security endpoint. Each connected device is a potential gateway into the network, so it is integral that network monitors can manage every device (new and old) to detect rogue devices that may pose a risk. Security is a key concern of IT teams because of the importance of the data at stake and the technical complexity existing in the communication network and cloud infrastructure. 

In 2019, GCSE coursework from year 11 students at the Sir John Colfox Academy, Dorset was lost to cyberattack. Admins must understand there are three main targets for hackers to access the functionalities and data of a connected device: devices and hardware, cloud infrastructure that includes conceptually IoT supervisors via servers and the network of communications.

Visibility is everything

With so many ways of integrating connected devices, the ways in which the IoT can be used to benefit schools are limited only by imagination and budget. When it comes to monitoring, this presents a challenge as every network will require bespoke sensors and custom reports. However, this can be an opportunity for admins to get creative and design innovative , tailor made solutions for every monitoring requirement on their school network. 

To properly equip staff and students for current and future connected learning environments, we are already seeing schools employ sophisticated network monitoring solutions. These are being used to drive better outcomes for students, as well as prevent downtime. 

As more schools look to scale up and equip staff and students with digital and connected learning tools, IT administrators must ensure the network is prepared and visible. Effective monitoring is everything in ensuring digital education.

Martin Hodgson

Martin Hodgson is the Director Northern Europe at Paessler AG.