Eight UK schools embark on £800k Internet of Things pilot project

school kids

An 800,000 project exploring how the Internet of Thing could be used as a teaching aid in schools has been launched by a consortium of tech firms and higher education organisations.

Eight UK schools have been selected to take part in the one-year pilot project, and will be encouraged to draw on the IoT to develop new tech-centric learning activities for their students.

We're giving them the tools and education they need to take advantage of this huge upswing in the digital economy and benefit from that in the future.

Initially, the project's focus will be on using the IoT to help enhance the way science, technology and geography are taught, but as time goes on it is hoped that a wider range of subjects will be able to benefit too.

The project is being overseen by self-styled "Internet of School Things" consortium Distance, who was awarded funding for the project by the Technology Strategy Board.

The consortium's members include Intel, Xively, Science Scope, Explorer HQ, Stakeholder Design, the University of Birmingham's Urban Climate Laboratory, the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and the Open University Department of Computing.

David Crellin, managing director of science education hardware and software manufacturer Science Scope, said the education sector is a good fit for IoT environments because of the volume and type of data it produces.

"[This project] overcomes a lot of the commercial problems around the Internet of Things because some organisations with lots of valuable data can be very wary of sharing it," he told IT Pro.

"But, if you imagine a world where students share scientific data for their experiments, it's going to be a very open framework in which we can operate."

Also, schools have plenty of experience using devices that can measure environmental changes, for example, which means they are likely to be more open to the concept of the IoT.

"Schools have been involved in sensing and measuring things using electronic technology since the early 1970s, so it's not novel for them to [use] IoT-type technology," he added.

"It's a great opportunity to bring [the schools] up to date with where [this kind of] technology is going, and it's not something so radically new they don't have any idea what you're talking about it."

Platform-as-a-Service provider Xively will provide the backbone to the project, explained Chad Jones, the firm's vice president of product strategy, which will allow data from a wide array of connected devices to be shared.

Speaking to IT Pro, he said the project could also inspire children to build their own products and sensors. This in turn could help them tap into the trillion dollar market opportunity IoT is expected to provide by the middle of the next decade.

"This is not just about using the Internet of Things to teach the curriculum, but teaching the kids how they can build their own products and sensors, bring them online easily and monitor whatever [variable] they want," said Jones.

"We're giving them the tools and education they need to take advantage of this huge upswing in the digital economy and really benefit from that in the future," he added.

Looking ahead, Science Scope's Crellin said the consortium hopes the pilot project will lead thousands of UK schools to develop their own IoT environments and data sharing initiatives.

"Imagine all schools having a weather station and each one being interconnected," he said.

"They all have a vested interest in it working from an educational perspective, but the density of knowledge [and data this produces] could be much more significant than anything that's available to the Met Office today," he added.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.