The evolving challenges of IoT: Exploring higher education

IoT Evangelist, University of San Diego

The Internet of Things (IoT) brings tremendous challenges and opportunities to higher education. The unprecedented growth of ubiquitous computing, evolving IoT capabilities, technologies such as cloud computing, and big data and analytics are instrumental not only in improving the core values of teaching and conducting research but also instilling a new digital culture and developing an IoT-centric society. With ever-increasing online degree options and seamless access to instructional content in both structured and unstructured formats, the IoT drives digital momentum into higher education. Often considered a digital disruption, the IoT is a tectonic shift in the usual instructional paradigm while incorporating broader disciplines, including social science, to enrich the value of big data available from social media.

Cloud computing

Many universities are using hybrid cloud as their enterprise architecture for hosting IoT applications. The combination of millennials, the most tech-savvy students in the history of higher education, as well as the rise of tablet and mobile computing, has opened up new methods of leveraging enterprise architecture, instructional technologies, classroom environments and research computing. On average, students have at least three different devices that connect to the enterprise network. With ever-present computing, the cloud offers seamless connections and services to core information technology services. Currently, enterprise architecture in many higher education institutions rely on hybrid cloud infrastructures with legacy and research computing platforms on private clouds, while enterprise and instructional applications slowly move to public clouds. Enterprise architecture in these institutions must reduce latency because of the greater demand for content in instructional technologies, the massive increase in audio and videos for instructions, and the need for agile enterprise networks.

Instructional technologies

The growing use of learning management systems such as Blackboard and Moodle is generating vast amounts of structured and unstructured data such as audio and video content. Advanced electronic classrooms equipped with lecture capture systems and web streaming allow students to access instructional materials on-demand whenever necessary. They also facilitate geographically dispersed student collaboration. With more online courses every year being delivered through learning management systems, the IoT must deliver more agile services and support stricter service-level agreements.

Mobility applications

IoT applications are being increasingly used to integrate mobile learning applications and for evaluation and grading systems. The typical app can help students take advantage of learning resources, manage assignments and work on projects. Instructors also use some of these apps to teach highly specialized concepts, scientific simulations and complex physical and social topics.

Research computing

Higher education continues to benefit from IoT integration. As the cost of hardware diminishes, interdisciplinary research has gained momentum within the last decade. With the availability of big data, even smaller universities can increase their interdisciplinary research footprint and invest in high-performance computing (HPC), big data platforms and analytics. STEM education has seen the necessity of identifying broader collaboration with IoT ecosystems by using sensor technologies, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and microcontrollers. Engineering laboratories use audio video technologies, UAV, Raspberry Pi and open source systems (OSS) that are driving innovations and enhancing learning processes in engineering projects. Social science researchers intrigued by the plethora of big data generated by social media and ominpresent computing are constantly using distributed computing platforms such as HPC, GPU clusters, Hadoop clusters and big data analytics to advance IoT research.

Quality and ethics

The quality of education both online and on campus and the rising cost of higher education has been hotly debated in recent years. The IoT offers unique opportunities to deliver digital courses but also introduces challenges to maintain the quality of instruction and evaluation of students’ work. This instructional digital disruption illuminates students’ ethics around academic honesty and plagiarism—especially data fraud and publication within scientific communities. IoT educational applications need tools and technologies for educators and the scientific community to improve the quality of research and address ethics issues within higher education.

Financing cost of information technologies continues to expand every year as content and application stacks escalate. These application stacks continue to grow both horizontally and vertically on instructional technologies, research computing and enterprise technologies. Beside the information technology fee and laboratory fee, most universities do not have a strategy for sharing costs and identifying the total cost of ownership (TCO) for an IoT infrastructure. Although many schools have successfully secured National Science Foundation funding to establish research computing infrastructures such as HPC, operational costs continue to be a burden. Higher education must come up with new ideas to finance an information technology infrastructure and services, and retain talents to manage the infrastructure.

Security and privacy

Higher education is vulnerable around the security and privacy of the IoT ecosystem. Although there has been greater momentum to deal with the security of the IoT infrastructure, there is still no strategy to identify business risks associated with data breaches. Higher education must develop standards to secure their IoT applications.

As higher education inspires millions of future workers, it must embrace IoT platforms—even with the challenges of IoT financing, evolving digital educational pedagogy and interdisciplinary research. Plus, IoT applications should engage the future workforce morally and ethically to address cybersecurity issues as society relies more heavily on IoT applications. Higher education must embrace IoT opportunities and help enable the oncoming IoT-based culture.