In 2020, schools around the world stopped in-person instruction to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19. Soon, students of all ages began logging into virtual classrooms and regularly attending remotely scheduled classes. Teachers began offering ‘Zoom office hours’ and soon collaboration with other students was entirely across a computer screen. While this worked for some, experts soon began to recognize that a gap existed between the student performance of those who have access to good remote learning technology and those that did not. According to an extensive survey by 2020 done by EdWeek, in districts with the lowest percentages of students from low-income families, just 1 in 5 leaders reported that a lack of basic technology is a “major” problem. However, in districts where the highest percentages of students are from low-income families, nearly two-thirds of education leaders cited the lack of technology as a critical challenge.
As a result, millions of students across the country face a tough road ahead, running the risk of being left behind as they face more demanding curriculums in the following years.
The ‘digital divide’ and student performance rates between households with lower incomes vs. those with higher incomes are not anything new. But the immediacy of the shift to remote learning due to the 2020 crisis has especially highlighted this gap. By developing IoT products and devices that are easy to use, intuitive, and (most importantly) accessible, tech innovation can be used as a tool to help tackle this divide. The goal? Introduce smart technology to the market that is designed to minimize the friction and barrier to learning in a remote, virtual setting.
Inaccessible WiFi, unreliable router connectivity, and lack of access to submit classwork are just a few challenges that students face in the realm of remote learning. NWEA estimates found that as a consequence of the switch to remote learning, US students in grades 3-8 are anticipated to make only an estimated 70% of the reading gains and 50% of math gains compared with what they would typically learn in a school year. In addition, for students, so much of their learning is also done outside the classroom when in school. Oftentimes, in-person extracurricular events, workshops, and clubs improve social skills and support learning of other subjects. But because of COVID, workshops are limited and most indoor events like conferences have been canceled. These are traditionally great avenues for learning but have been interrupted by the pandemic.
But by leveraging affordable IoT technology in schools, we can achieve a better-connected, less restricted, and more collaborative environment for students. These devices give students better access to learning materials, communication channels and provide teachers with the ability to measure student learning progress in real-time. This new workflow empowers not just students, but their families as well, by being notified if a student is struggling with a subject early on. It’s in these applications that we begin to see the positive role that IoT plays to support a more equitable society.
According to a K12 report by Cambridge International, 42 percent of young students use smartphones, 33 percent use interactive whiteboards, and 20 percent use tablets. In terms of IoT brands looking to expand their market reach - the education sector is one of the prime movers of new technology. In a “digital-first” society, it’s critical that teachers and students have the right tools available to them to support young students learning in new ways. It’s especially important for these children and teens to be digitally literate as they navigate their way through high school and the college application process.
For example, to make IoT devices usable to universities and schools, we offer modules that combine a microcontroller with a LoRa transceiver in breakout board form factors and evaluation board designs. Products like these allow universities and schools to need only a laptop and a few other items with connectivity access to be able to streamline their ability to learn and communicate with teachers effectively.
Using modular systems makes it easy to implement low power wide area network (LPWAN) into an IoT solution. Because of their accessibility, many of these tools are available to be integrated into school curriculums. They can support everything from being able to take attendance to help students submit assignments on time.
LPWANs operate at a low bit rate and are used for IoT solutions to connect sensors to a central system through wireless gateways. These are ideal for the educational sector because these are emerging technologies and can foster innovations.. LPWAN technology like LoRaWAN has increasing adoption. While seemingly complicated - these small modules are simple in design and can be inserted into a variety of devices used by students and teachers especially in STEM related activities.
Through the cooperation between private tech companies and educational institutions, we see how IoT can solve the world’s toughest problems. By integrating all of our modern-day devices with internet connectivity, the IoT market is on pace to grow to over $3 trillion annually by 2026. In examining some of these use cases in the education sector, we soon begin to appreciate the positive impact IoT products and services have on improving the lives of students and promoting an equitable learning environment worldwide.
Carl Erick Rowan is an electronics engineer and Technical Documentation Lead at RAKwireless. He has 10+ years of experience in electronics design from kick-off to mass production. He was involved in companies that design and manufacture electronic devices, like high-speed industrial sensors, switch-mode power supplies, and IoT devices. His involvement in various projects makes him a well-rounded engineer, who can navigate hardware, firmware, and software parts of the product design. He is now focused on IoT and dedicates his time to evangelizing IoT technology. He is a family man and ensures he spends quality time with his wife and two beautiful kids. You can learn more about WisBlock and follow RAKwireless.