Home Coding/Computer Science Five Paths to an IoT-Powered Learner

Five Paths to an IoT-Powered Learner

by Miguel Guhlin
circuit board
The Internet of Things (IoT) : a network of physical objects enhanced with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that give it identity, and allow it to collect and exchange data over the Internet. Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020. (source: adapted from Wikipedia)
“How cool is that?” asked my son as we walked the freezer aisles at the local Target store. They lighted up as we walked towards them to pick up frozen strawberries and blueberries for protein shake mixes. In the near future, this data will be relayed via the Internet to Target Headquarters, keeping track of the frequency with which thousands of customers access their products. What if learning could be like that with each book/eBook that students reach for feeding data into what was most used or accessed? The real challenge isn’t in that there are so many physical objects (50 billion by 2020) being enhanced. The question is will your children and mine be able to create and control them?
Join the ongoing TCEA Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) SkypeChat via your mobile device or online. Explore and share concepts at the intersection of teaching, learning, leading, and technology!
An example of practical uses of the IoT could include “smart” digital highlighters that enable you to highlight paper documents, then transfer highlighted text from the printed page to your favorite repository of data (e.g. Google Docs, Dropbox, OneNote/OneDrive). Or you can scan text with your digital highlighter and it will read the text aloud to you (source). But preparing our children for this “just around the corner” future involves doing more than simply buying IoT devices pre-made.
Let’s briefly explore five paths that you can help learners walk to achieve IoT-powered learning:
  1. Embrace the language of things.
  2. Unlock the future with hands-on, digital experiences.
  3. Build digital connections into physical spaces.
  4. Make the future.
  5. Create augmented learning experiences.
Ready? Let’s get started!

#1 – Embrace the language of things.

How many of us began learning to play a musical instrument, then stopped because someone said “You know, you’re never going to be that good at it.” At a time when each of us can contribute a small, unique part to a whole concerto or our voices to a global choir, we need to reject that thinking. For IoT, embracing the language of connected objects involves learning to program, or in today’s parlance, code.

Many of us have already become familiar with the “HourofCode.orgresources. These resources make it possible for our children to learn programming that is essential to enhancing each physical object. WHY: learn to program so you can have a VOICE in a world where everything is connected to each other. Go back and read that again. We’re not learning to code because it’s popular or because it’s what the President said to do. Rather, we are doing it so we can each have a voice in an interconnected world of things. What will your song be in a world of connected things? Consider the following quote in light of the Internet of Everything:
“Those who cannot claim computers as their own tool for exploring the world never grasp the power of technology… They are controlled by technology as adults–just [as they were]…controlled [by] them as students.” 
(source: Toward Digital Equity: Bridging the Divide in Education Editors: Gwen Solomon, Nancy J. Allen, and Paul Resta)
It should come as no surprise that coding is only the first step. The next is as powerful: interacting with simple computing devices.
#2 – Unlock the future with hands-on, digital experiences.
When I purchased my first Raspberry Pi, I was shocked at how simple it was. “What’s the point of working on an under-powered computer?” I said to myself. Still, I soon had it powered up and working. The experience quickly opened my eyes. What learner wouldn’t want to jump into the command line to get this technology to work?
Later, as I observed students during a summer STEM academy with the Raspberry Pi, I realized it was Raspberry Pi’s simplicity that offered a learning opportunity to control devices that are far less powerful than my smartphone, but, when taken together, can do much more. Simple devices that, when combined, enable learners to accomplish great things; just Raspberry Pi and the Internet of Things (IoT). That is the lesson
And don’t limit yourself to Raspberry Pi. Find what “turns on the light” in your students’ eyes. That can include a plethora of “kits” to get you started (thanks to Nicholas Keith, TexasEdTech Blog, for the list!) such as those listed below:
#3 – Build digital connections into physical spaces in your classroom.
As shared in these videos, proximity-aware experiences through iBeacon technology enable you to connect physical objects to digital feedback in ways that are special and unique to each student. These serve as a way to introduce your students to the increasing “other-awareness” of physical objects, like books, a writing center, a technology center in your classroom, or specialized rooms in a library or classroom. Here are some quick ideas for Bluetooth-powered iBeacons in classrooms:
  • Use the beacons as digital bulletin boards for courses or buildings for students.
  • See if a child is in class, keeping better track of when s/he arrived (this can be controversial, though).
  • Teachers can broadcast information about their classes or exams (source: 100 Use Case Scenarios for iBeacon).
  • Applications abound for assisting special needs children (and adults) as they move around campus, accessing physical objects.
#4 – Make the future.
If you aren’t familiar with classroom maker spaces, you may want to watch this video introduction from K-3 students. Remember, the focus is on helping students create devices they can program. It’s okay if they aren’t the equivalent of your computer or smartphone, but serve as an introduction to the Internet of Things. Students become makers, persons who create and share. And your classroom can become that space where students learn by doing, creating, and printing. For example, kinder students in Mark Simmons’ school district use iPad apps like TinkerPlay and 123D to design robots and share them via cloud storage. Mark makes them real by 3D-printing kindergarten students’ creations. You can start small, with a maker space in a box or a “MysteryBag,” or pop-up maker spaces, or you can go big with a wealth of ideas online.
Note: Would you like an introduction to maker spaces? Consider attending the day-long TCEA Makers event offered in May, July, and September!
#5 – Create augmented learning experiences.
“Virtual, 3D objects appear,” says Digital Tech Frontier, “in the real world, attached to real objects.” Augmented Reality (AR) enables students to bring reality and the Internet together. (Watch this short video introduction to AR from CommonCraft.) AR offers a real-time view of the physical environment that is supplemented by a computer-generated sensory input that can include video, images, sound, and/or global position system (GPS) data. Students are able to create a real-time, digital view of the world around them using simple but powerful apps like Aurasma, AR FlashcardsAR Toolkit, Crayola Color Live!Fetch! Lunch Rush!, Quiver, and NASA 3D Spacecraft.
You can see that AR is directly tied to the Internet of Things, such as Daqri’s 4D Studio. Some sample AR experiences include recorded video reviews of content (e.g. books, movies) tagged to the physical object (e.g. book). This makes it possible for students to gain an advanced preview of the object (source). Another possibility could include students explaining how they solved a problem or overcame an obstacle and making that available in the physical space where the problem appears. And getting students designing AR prepares them to create a holographic way, perhaps, using Microsoft Hololens, of interacting with each other. Can you imagine how excited students could be about designing holographic games, such as combining Minecraft with MS Hololens?
Intrigued by a path yet?
Worried that this is too technical? Don’t feel bad about getting a late start! One of the benefits of starting down the road after others have begun is that these five paths are clearly marked by those who have gone before you. And remember that your students are eager to share what they learn on this journey with you. Allow yourself and your students the opportunity to become IoT-empowered learners, creators, makers, and collaborators.

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