How to prepare for everything

Today’s student-retention systems are great examples of IoE at work. These systems apply complex algorithms to multiple data streams—some of which appear completely unrelated—to identify students who are at risk of dropping out. Some of today’s systems draw on dozens of data feeds, but that may be just the beginning in the world of IoE. As more and more devices, data sources, and technologies come online, schools will have the opportunity to increase the accuracy and effectiveness of their systems.

Indeed, Patton feels that higher ed stands on the cusp of much greater things in this area. “For the future, it’s wherever our imagination will take us,” she said. “Imagine being able to use facial-recognition software to determine whether or not a student is engaged and interested, and give that real-time feedback to teachers.”

This ability to solve old problems in new ways lies at the heart of IoE. In coming years, everyday devices ranging from washing machines to bicycles will have the capability to connect to the internet. And, with the advent of wearable devices and imbedded sensors, so will people.

The challenge for higher education lies in deciding what devices, sensors—and people—are worth connecting to the internet and then developing the analytical software needed to create intelligence out of the data deluge.

For higher education institutions that do it right, Patton believes, IoE represents a very real opportunity for them to bend the cost curve. “We think that the economics of higher education is the single most important trend for the coming year,” explained Patton. “Where do schools think they can most increase streams of tuition or revenue, and how can they decrease cost?”

The answers to these questions will obviously vary from school to school, but administration sometimes represents the lowest fruit on the tree, not least because its top-down management structure makes it easier to institute change. “If you look at administration and management, it’s super-clear where IoE is going to play,” said Patton. “It’s all about streamlining processes and more effectively managing facilities. How can they look at all the facilities across campus?”

Safety and security are other areas where IoE is gaining traction, with sensors, cameras, and analytical software uniting to create new solutions for old problems. At the University of San Francisco, for example, facial-recognition software is being used in conjunction with security cameras to eliminate the problem of “tailgating,” where an unauthorized person enters a restricted building by following a student through a locked doorway.

It is in the area of teaching and learning, though, that IoE offers perhaps the greatest rewards—as well as the biggest challenges. “It’s about making it easier and more automated for universities to track students and figure out where they’re doing well and where they need help,” noted Patton, who is acutely aware that traditional higher ed institutions face an existential threat.

“[Colleges] have to really create connected learning experiences for students, so they will want to go there, and the Internet of Everything simply accelerates that.”

(Next page: A shining example of a University’s embrace of IoE)