The Internet of Things Has Arrived on College Campuses

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In the previous post, we discussed the importance of mobility in higher education, the IT-related challenges created by increased mobile device usage, and how the right mobile device management solution can help overcome these challenges. Mobile devices are one of many components of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is capable of delivering significant value to colleges and universities on a larger scale.

The IoT is a network of desktop and mobile devices, objects, sensors, machines, humans, animals and other Internet-connected “things.” Each thing is assigned a unique identifier and capable of automatically collecting and sharing data over a network. Anything that can be connected to the Internet can become a source of data as part of the IoT, whether it’s a heart implant monitor that alerts a physician when a patient is at risk, or a vending machine that tells you when products need to be replenished.

IoT predictions and forecasts tend to vary, but there is almost universal agreement that the IoT will grow exponentially during the next five to 10 years. Gartner has predicted the IoT will increase from 6.4 billion connected things in 2016 to 20.8 billion in 2020. IHS is even more bullish, forecasting growth to 30.7 billion things in 2020 and 75.4 billion by 2025.

The IoT has quickly evolved from futuristic concept to real-world solution with valuable use cases in higher education. From an operational standpoint, schools are already using the IoT to control and maintain HVAC systems, lighting, sprinkler systems and other mechanical equipment to improve energy efficiency and reduce repair costs. The IoT can also be used to optimize the utilization of facilities to achieve additional cost savings. Campus security has been fortified by connecting door locks, alarms, movement sensors, video surveillance, access controls and parking sensors to the IoT. The IoT makes it possible to track virtually anything, from bookstore inventory to vehicles to interactive whiteboards.

Student success rates and the student experience can be improved with the right IoT strategy. Student behavior and activity can be monitored to identify students who are struggling and need assistance. Because learning is taking place on PCs and tablets more than print textbooks and notebooks, schools can monitor study habits and allow students to learn at their own pace. Instructors can offer more personalized instruction and adjust lesson plans during the semester. Wearable technology can be used to monitor student health and fitness and recognize signs of stress and fatigue. Air quality in dorm rooms can be remotely monitored. From a pure convenience standpoint, imagine getting a text from a smart washing machine to let you know your laundry is done.

Although the potential of the IoT in higher education is enormous, there are challenges that need to be addressed. The sheer volume of connected devices and data requires significant bandwidth and wireless access, which could require upgrades in network hardware and software. Without optimal performance, IoT initiatives are likely to fail. Schools also need to address security prior to implementation. Every Internet-connected object must be properly secured, and user access must be properly controlled, to protect sensitive data and avoid privacy issues. Finally, the right analytics tools, expertise and training are required to take full advantage of IoT data.

The IoT isn’t coming to higher education. It’s already here. Colleges and universities should be evaluating their existing infrastructure, investigating IoT solutions, and identifying specific use cases that would bring the most value from IoT investments.