Learning and the Future of IoT

Connecting education and the Internet of Things

ATLIN information exchange for the teenagers of Anstruther, a local network appended to phone-booths

Imagine a world that answers your questions about it. A world where the internet has become embedded in nearly everything. A world of teaching and learning seamlessly integrating our queries, devices, and the web.

Imagine a hoodie that zips up to create a virtual reality (VR) interface: clothing that works like a web browser. Imagine table-tops that can search for maps and blueprints and then change their surfaces to model places kids might never visit in the physical world: furniture that becomes a web-enabled construction set. Imagine sensors that report out biometrics capturing and sharing the benefits of fantastic lessons and projects and the costs of power struggles on students and teachers’ minds and bodies: teaching and learning informed by real-time biology and neurology.

It’s kind of an amazing picture, one full of convenience and near-wonder — things we could accomplish before too long.

It’s also full of problems. Hacked wearables delivering unreliable data. Bricked furniture stuck in an unusable state. Developers and intelligent machines learning how to manipulate us emotionally.

This kind of reciprocal, always-on-everywhere connectivity holds great consequences for how we exist physically and mentally inside the Internet of Things (IoT).

The Internet of Things is a network of connected devices that bring people convenience over the web. For example, you could use an app when you leave school or work to turn the lights on at home before you get there. Once you’re home, you could use voice commands to have connected speakers search the web for news, music, and podcasts to play back for you. There isn’t any one way to do IoT; instead there’s a general principle behind it: make more of the world available to people wherever they are.

Connected community printers that print at the same time whenever someone sends them a message.

That availability comes with trade-offs in terms of privacy, data security, and personal safety online.

Who tracks our IoT behavior? What do they do with the information they get about us? What happens if that information leaks? These are tough questions, but It’s possible to answer them affirmatively. With careful intent, we can build and use devices that respect user privacy and secure users’ data. It’s also possible to exploit people through IoT by data-mining their lives.

Issues of privacy and safety like this get especially messy in schools governed by strict confidentiality laws meant to safeguard students and anonymize their data to outside parties.

Educators need to address those challenges to teach and learn about IoT in schools. Youth are the designers of our next generation of freedoms and constraints. They’ll make the decisions that inform IoT design for decades to come. Do we serve or surveil? Protect or profit? Without some kind of connected device curriculum integrated into universal public education, few youth will know such choices exist. Instead, they will unknowingly live with decisions of others.

At Mozilla, we want to help global educational leaders and the young people they serve to understand the ethics and practicalities of a connected life inside and outside school.

Through events like the 48 Hour Launch in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the SPARK youth hackathon in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mozilla works with community members looking for IoT-based solutions to community problems that focus on accessibility, equity, privacy, and security. We want youth to be powerful self-advocates and makers within their communities and across the global IoT ecosystem.

We also want to help educators create the legal and pedagogical frameworks they need to do meaningful IoT work with their learners.

We need your help to keep improving our work in IoT. How should we balance possibility and privacy? Curiosity and security? Ownership and responsibility?

Let us know what you think about IoT education and how it can be made more accessible, equitable, and impacting for you and the youth you serve.