With the Internet connecting us to many things (media, photos, information, etc.) can it also connect us to physical objects? Can we launch applications on our computer by just touching a physical object? Can one physical object talk to another physical object through an Internet connect and command it to do a physical act or feed it data? The answer is yes and this phenomena is called “The Internet of Things”.
What is exactly the Internet of Things? According to Wikipedia the Internet of Things “refers to uniquely identifiable objects (things) and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. The term Internet of Things was first used by Kevin Ashton in 1999.” What are some consumer examples of the Internet of Things? One would be a “smart fridge”. This device could tell you when the items in your fridge are due, what you can make with the items in your fridge and find recipes on the Internet for you. Or when you are running low on a certain food item, it would email you a list that you can pull up on your mobile phone while you go food shopping. “Intelligent cars” are also being designed in the same way to help you navigate, avoid accidents by sensing the objects around you, emailing you when you need an oil change, or slowing down your speed because of bad weather (and emailing your work to let them know you’ll be late). Sounds like Science Fiction? The ground work for the Internet of Things has already been laid down and futurist believe we’ll have a totally connected Internet of Things world in 5 to 10 years out.
So how does the Internet of Things exactly work? Each physical object would have a Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag placed on the item or a 2D code or barcode. When this code or tag is read either by a RFID reader (also running an app to read it) or scanned by an app running on a computer or mobile device it would prompt your device to open up a page of information or send a command for an action to happen, like opening up an email client and sending a message or it would call a certain person in your address book. Two applications that will allow you to create tags and associate them with physical objects and have them execute a command are touchatag and Pachube .You can also just attach data (like text or images) to the physical object to describe it or have that object feed data into another program. How easier would it be for you to gather information about the objects around by just scanning them instead of opening a browser and having to search the Internet about the object? The relationship of the object and the data is already formed for you. So how can the Internet of Things be applied to education?
If students are collecting data out in the field for research, tagging physical objects to find and analyze data about the object (and have to feed into other programs for analysis) is one way the Internet of Things can be used in education. Once the students set up the process (tagging the item, associating certain data and commends to feed that data to other servers for analysis), they can sit back, collect the data and run it through various programs for their research. Having to go out to the physical object all the time to collect data on different conditions will be a thing of the past. The students will have 24 hour data collection, which will make their research more accurate.
Say a student created a work of art. They can tag that painting with the time, date, location it was painted, the media that was used for the painting, an audio artist statement or even a video of the artist discusses their influences and attaching images of those influences to that physical object. This can be done with a viewer scanning an AR code and viewing that data as AR (Augmented Reality) data. They would be able to see the images superimposed on top of the real physical object and compare the two in the same exact space. There will be no need for the viewer to pull out their phone, look up the artist and the painting information and try to find interviews about the piece. It will all be tagged to that object and easy to access.
What if a student wanted to learn a foreign language through touching the physical objects that are in their vocabulary list? RFID tags can be created and attached by the instructor for each of the physical items in the vocab list. When the student places this object on the RFID reader, it will say the word for the item in their native language and in the foreign language. Touching the item will give the student another sense to be engaged and may help (depending on their learning style) them learn the content faster.
With server space becoming more plentiful and Internet connections on mobile devices getting faster, the Internet of Things will become more of a common place reality and will find its way into the classroom.