IoT and education: Bridging the digital divide

Due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, schools worldwide had to shut down quickly. While many schools already operated with some online component, most were not equipped to become 100% digital in a matter of days. Our own online portal for digital learning saw a 200% increase in activity after the outbreak put schools on a total learn-from-home model, says Andre Beauchamp, president of Plurilogic.

Using the Actian Zen server and core database from hybrid cloud data management company, Actian, for content management as well as publishing content to mobile devices, we levelled up our connected network to support a two-fold increase of devices – increasing teacher-student connectivity by 50%.

Now, as many regions begin to move out of lockdown, the focus is still on distance learning and what the future of the classroom will look like. The immediate question many schools are asking is: do they risk opening under less than ideal circumstances, or risk the potential of students falling behind if there isn’t a strong remote option?

Fortunately, education technology (Edtech) can help, not only with distance learning, but also with social distancing, thereby reducing risk while providing safer options for when students and teachers return to the classroom.

Now more than ever we’ve seen how far beyond the classroom school goes – from testing environments to administrative functions (admissions, student records, etc.) to content management, after-school activities, and more. Managing these different services under normal circumstances is a full-time job on campus, let alone remotely and on the heels of a pandemic.

As we’ve supported schools in making full-time distance learning a success during quarantine, we’ve seen IoT data and technology make a deep impact on keeping students and teachers connected.

Remote access is key

Whether it’s via laptops, tablets, or smartphones, remote learning would not be possible without connected devices. Having a platform that supports the entire school system in a single portal – from curriculum to course delivery – and is accessible from any device, has made the abrupt switch from classroom to 100% remote learning possible.

A good example of a platform like this is our Integrated Campus Management system. As remote learning went from a nice to have option to an absolute necessity, school districts all over North America have turned to technologies that allow for strong remote access – and platforms that could ensure this access, regardless of bandwidth capabilities, in order to reach students with less than ideal technology setups to bridge the digital divide.

As many parents are already dealing with upended home routines, it is important that schools are able to implement remote learning seamlessly and easily to avoid disruptions.

Mobile aids in social distancing

Prior to the pandemic, mobile had already prepared us for the shift to IoT. For instance, last year, we began providing RF-ID tracking systems for students and key assets at school entry and exit points. As schools begin opening up and students reenter the physical classroom, this technology will prove vital. For example, scanning stations at school entries will allow a parent to scan their card to signal that they are there to pick up their child, versus having to enter the main office or classroom to alert the teacher.

Additionally, mobile technologies can allow parents to send instant messages signaling their arrival, and geolocation is used to automatically alert the school when the parent arrives. Regardless of the facility, using this technology to limit the amount of foot traffic in and out of the school allows for better adherence to social distancing guidelines.

Looking toward the future of IoT and education

As we continue looking to the future and additional resources needed to help schools maintain healthy, safe environments, we are considering other forms of IoT that could easily be integrated into this system to further reduce risk or liability.

One example is adding a simple, inexpensive Raspberry Pi, a series of small single-board computers, to the RF-ID platform for student and asset tracking. With this addition, schools could use camera systems, with specified facial recognition settings to scan faces entering and exiting the premises, checking whether or not they are wearing masks.

Andre Beauchamp

Additionally, extensions to the RF-ID platform, using sensors, could track the number of bathroom visits and compare it to the number of times the faucets have been used and soap has been dispensed to understand whether hand washing guidelines are being followed.

While some of these features, such as face scans for masks and monitoring handwashing, are not currently in use, implementing an integrated campus management system with extended mobile and IoT functionality allows schools to add increased functionality down the line and as needed.

As we navigate this “new normal,” IoT allows schools to more easily close the technology gap, creating an easier distance learning environment while maintaining safe and healthy environments on school campuses.

The author is Andre Beauchamp, president of Plurilogic.

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