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February 26 2014

February 25 2014

February 06 2014

Smart Home Shocker: My Cats Are Out To Get Me

ReadWriteHome is an ongoing series exploring the implications of living in connected homes.

When I'm at work, my cats—Gamera and Gojira—love to defy me. I know this because my smart home tells me so. 

People have all sorts of reasons for connecting their homes. Some people want to monitor the nanny, or keep an eye on things for security or safety reasons. Others just want to see what their pets do when they're not around. I happen to fall into the latter camp.

So when SmartThings asked if I wanted to check out one of its DIY smart home kits, I jumped at the chance. Two weeks into the experiment, it's turned up some disturbing evidence.

The Art Of Surveillance

In 2012, SmartThings tore through its $250,000 Kickstarter goal by raising $1.2 million. Then it attracted another $15 million from other investors. In other words, the company managed to put out a smart home system that people really seemed to want. 

I can see why. Its devices—a hub and a collection of sensors and other gadgets—are sleek and attractive, and pretty simple to set up. Connecting each device to the network requires nothing more than pulling out a paper tab (similar to those battery pull tabs you sometimes find in watches and other gadgets) and firing up the SmartThings mobile app. I had everything hooked up in less than 15 minutes. 

I felt a little silly as I did so, given that I was essentially prepping for a feline stakeout. But one look at my pricey mid-century modern sofa hardened my resolve. My living room is full of catbeds, catgrass and catnip for every conceivable feline need—and yet I spend an inordinate amount of time de-fuzzing my sofa cushions. I wanted hard evidence—and I got it, thanks to the motion sensor.

I also put a multi-sensor on my bedroom door, which tells me when a cat enters during the day. And since I already had a DropCam Pro Wi-Fi camera, I installed that in the bedroom as well. 

The next morning, I got an alert. So I checked the camera feed and saw firsthand what I'd already suspected: Gojira gingerly tiptoed past my husband's pillow to plop down on mine. She must have known I don't breathe well amid big tufts of cat hair, because this was clearly a surgical strike. 

She then looked at the camera and, as if to protest being monitored, coughed up a hairball. On my side of the bed. 

Connecting Humans To Their Homes

My smart home played a crucial role in the sting operation on my pets, but it's capable of much more. 

The SmartThings bundle—called "Know and Control Your Home Kit" ($299)—includes a variety of items: a motion sensor, a moisture sensor, a smart outlet, two fobs with "presence" sensors, and two multi-sensors that can detect movement, vibration, orientation and temperature. With all this, I could give my apartment some cool powers. 

For example, I can now turn my dining room lights on via smartphone, and those lights are set to automatically trigger when I arrive at night. I haven't come home to a dark apartment in two weeks. I love this convenience—though I have to admit, it took some trial-and-error to make it work. 

The funky architecture of my home initially daunted SmartThings' wireless connection. SmartThings uses Wi-Fi as well as Zigbee and Z-Wave, two wireless home automation standards that require a line-of-sight. But there's a big, thick wall between my Z-Wave smart outlet in the dining room and the hub in my bedroom. 

Fortunately, though, Zigbee and Z-Wave are "mesh networks," meaning that compatible devices can talk to each other and act as signal repeaters. So I situated a spare smart outlet to catch the signal from my hub and repeat it to the lights, routing it around the troublesome wall. 

The other gadgets don't require a line-of-sight—a good thing since, as sensors, they need to work in different locations. I put a moisture sensor under my sink, another multi-sensor at my front door and a presence fob on my husband's keychain. 

As I write this, my phone notifications tell me that my husband just came home. I know exactly what's happening because I set it all up, but also because my mobile app is logging the activity. His fob told the hub that he arrived, which turned on the lights. And when he opened the front door, it triggered music to play.

If only we had a robotic cocktail machine, so it could greet him with a fresh martini.

Smart Homes Get Even Wiser

SmartThings aspires to do more than just push products. It wants to be an open platform that will work with other devices and brands. The company calls it SmartThings Labs. 

I toured SmartThings' demo house in Las Vegas last month during the Consumer Electronics Show. There, the system's "morning mode" lit up Philips Hue lights in the kitchen, started playing NPR on a Sonos speaker, and flipped on a coffee machine. "Now imagine your fitness band telling SmartThings you've woken up in the morning, so all of that happens automatically—without you having to do a thing," Andrew Brooks, COO and co-founder, told me. 

Does that sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. SmartThings has already started working on Jawbone UP integration. This is a natural fit for Labs, since the fitness band already knows when you're asleep and awake. 

Brooks also showed me something else that made me jump: When a vibration sensor at the back door registered an "unauthorized person" banging on it, the Sonos speaker suddenly started barking. Loudly. 

I was experiencing a virtual guard dog in action.

The Internet Of ... Pets?

We try to cover the sofa, but Gamera always finds a way. We try to cover the sofa, but Gamera always finds a way.

In my own smart home, watching my cats' behavior has been fascinating. But if I had a child or an elderly parent, or concerns about home security or safety—think, electrical fires or burst pipes—that kind of surveillance might seem a whole lot more important.

Of course, SmartLabs isn't the only option in this field. Samsung, Qualcomm, possibly Google, and others are deeply interested in this area of technology—as are existing providers like ADT, Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T. Meanwhile, more companies are jumping into the connected-home market with systems like Belkin WeMo or individual products like Lockitron, Philips Hue, DropCam and many others. 

If my experience is any indication, there'll be a lot of demand. Home control, automation and monitoring is downright addicting. After just a couple of weeks, I can't imagine not knowing what's going on in my abode. And since I've forgiven my cats for the mischief they make—it's hard to stay mad at those furry little faces—I'm now wondering what else my smart home can do for them. 

I'm thinking about setting up a mechanized litter box and feeder to work with SmartThings. Why not? I've already got the most connected kitties on the block. I may as well take this automation thing as far as it can go. 

Tags: home

February 05 2014

Bill Nye and Ken Ham Debate Whether Creationism Is Science
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When you get into an argument with someone and they make a statement as though it is a fact, the natural thing to do is ask a simple question: Can you prove it?

So it was at Tuesday's debate between Bill Nye, the executive director of "space interest" organization The Planetary Society and the man behind the famous Bill Nye the Science Guy TV show, and Ken Ham, president of creationism organization Answers in Genesis and the head of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, where the debate was held

The event was framed around whether creationism is a viable model for explaining the origins of the Earth, which sets up the discussion in such a way that Ham, who believes creationism is a viable model, would be forced to take the defensive. But he moved beyond those confines, and the debate began to focus on whether one person could prove or disprove anything to the other. Read more...

More about Evolution, Us World, Us, Family Parenting, and Home

February 03 2014

13 Must-Have Items in Your 2014 Time Capsule
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In this tech-centric day and age, it's easy to get caught up in the future.

Recently at Mashable, we've been thinking about the future, after our MashableReads social book club finished Chang-Rae Lee's On Such A Full Sea

Set in the future, the novel takes place in a technologically advanced society that deals with extreme social stratification. Reading about this dystopian environment made us wonder what present-day items we would save for the future, so we asked Mashable readers to show us what they would put in their 2014 time capsules.

Readers suggested a variety of items, ranging from wearable tech such as Google Glass to favorite foods like cake. Check out some of our favorites, below: Read more...

More about Time Capsule, Lifestyle, Home, Work Play, and 2014

January 30 2014

17 Nerdy Home Decor Items to Geek Out Over
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They say that home is where the heart is, so if you're nerdy to the core, your space should reflect that.

A few nerd-inspired items placed around your half-built IKEA furniture can diversify your cookie-cutter flat, and truly make that space your own

From Star Wars bookends to floppy disk planters, these niche, handmade home goods on Etsy will leave four-eyed consumers with countless geeky options for decorating their space. Read more...

More about List, Home, Geek, Nerd, and Geeky

January 28 2014

3D Printed Food: It's What's for Dinner
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Although squeezing out food, layer by layer, from a 3D printer may not yet be particularly efficient — nor sound that tasty — companies are already testing how the Jetsons-esque technology can transform the way we eat. Such old favorites as chocolate, candy, and pasta will take on groovier, sculptured forms when extruded from food printers, and the machines will allow the cooking-adverse to prepare "homemade" ravioli at the push of a button. That should free up more time to watch a tech-fantasy film like Her while the food printer is hard at work preparing dinner. Here's a look the 3D printing concepts on the menu at a range of companies: Read more...

More about 3d Printing, Gadgets, Lifestyle, Home, and Work Play

January 24 2014

A Third of Parents Have Reviewed an Item They've Never Bought or Tried
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A new study from YouGov reveals that 21% of you have bothered to leave reviews for places you have not gone and things you have not tried. Why? Mostly because you weirdos "just felt like it." Parents with children under 18 are the worst when it comes to this, as 32% of them have left reviews for something they've never bought or tried.

I love a good fake Amazon review as much as the next person. The "Bic For Her" pen reviews totally make my life and are a thing of beauty. I can also maybe understand writing a review of something you think people should boycott, although I think there are more constructive ways to go about doing that. Read more...

More about Consumer Reviews, Marketing, Lifestyle, Family Parenting, and Home

January 22 2014

Piper Is IFTTT for Your Home
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As I sat with Russell Ure in a Manhattan cafe, he turned on the reading lamp in his Ottawa, Ontario, home and we watched it light up in real time on his iPhone screen

The app he was using is from the company of which he is CEO and co-creator, Piper, which makes a connected device for homes and raised triple its Indiegogo goal in September. Along with a fisheye camera which captures most of a room, the device has a motion sensor and syncs with Z-Wave outlet adapters so you can turn various electronics on or off — "anything that plugs in," Ure says

More about Lifestyle, Home, Home Security, Connected Home, and Piper

January 17 2014

Screen Resolution Beyond 4K? Your Eyes May Not Notice
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With 3D fading into oblivion, the big news in televisions these days is ultra-high definition, TV-makers' quest to quadruple the resolution of the average high-def flat panel found in most U.S. homes. Called 4K resolution, it can be stunning, with deeper colors and a picture that many people often equate to "real life." The new higher-resolution is expected to expand slowly in 2014. Netflix plans to stream some content at 4K resolution this year, and Amazon announced it will shoot all of its original series in 4K ultra-HD starting this year.

Gorgeous image or not, the question arises: At what point do the capabilities of the technology outpace those of our eyes? Farhad Manjoo, writing in the Wall Street Journal, declared that we're almost there: "Nobody's eyes are good enough to appreciate resolution above 4K." Read more...

More about Television, 4k, Tech, Dev Design, and Home

January 16 2014

Self-Cleaning Dishware May Mean No More Mealtime Chores
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Passive aggressive notes left by angry roommates may soon be a relic of the past — at least in the kitchen — thanks to self-cleaning dishware.

Swedish design studio Tomorrow Machine has come one step closer to helping us realize our dream of mold-free sinks by releasing a self-cleaning plate-and-bowl prototype.

A super-hydrophobic coating on the dishware repels dirt and water. The coating causes muck from past meals to slide right off, much like water droplets rolling off a lotus leaf. The plate-and-bowl combo is lightweight, malleable and strong — it won't break even if it's dropped. This is largely because the dishware is made out of nanocellulose, a super material derived from wood fibers. Read more...

More about Kitchen, Home, Lotus, Self, and Water

January 09 2014

5 Technologies Seniors Use More Than Millennials
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Generally speaking, younger Americans adopt new technologies quicker than their older counterparts. But that doesn't mean all technologies are more often used by the young.

Basic cell phones, desktop PCs, VCRs, cable TV and satellite TV are more popular with the 65 and over crowd than among young adults.

Using data from research firm Gartner, Statista's infographic compares the adoption of different technologies among younger (from ages 18 to 29) and older (ages 65 and over) Americans

TechnologyHave something to add to this story? Share it in the comments. Read more...

More about Tech, Millennials, Senior Citizens, Lifestyle, and Home

January 07 2014

Intelligent Cat 'Companion' Mimics Movements of Small Animals
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Every indoor cat owner has felt it — that gnawing, guilt-inducing sensation that you're simply not providing enough entertainment or exercise for your homebound hunter. Kitty has grown bored with the feathers-on-a-fishing-rod toy, and you're not even around to wield it for most of the day. What to do?

Enter Egg, a Kickstarter project that bills itself as a cat companion rather than a cat toy. The brainchild of electrical engineer Jason O'Mara, Egg is a USB-powered, rechargeable device that rolls around, mimicking the erratic movements of a small animal. If it senses that your cat is on the brink of catching it, Egg will make a break for freedom while emitting alarmed squeaking noises. Read more...

More about Cats, Kickstarter, Tech, Gadgets, and Home

January 06 2014

Polar Vortex Puts Midwest on Ice
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A polar vortex full of frigid Canadian air has locked up parts of the Midwest, forcing people from Minnesota to Chicago to St. Louis, Mo., to put their lives on hold while they wait out record-setting low temperatures.

Though the cold front has sent a chill across the country, the center of America has taken the brunt of the blow as the freezing winds first cut into the U.S. from across the Great Lakes. Temperatures throughout the region are expected to hover around -20 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind chill up to 30 degrees colder. Residents of many cities have been warned to stay indoors, as skin exposed to that kind of cold can get frostbite in about five minutes. Read more...

More about Chicago, Flights, Us World, Us, and Home

December 31 2013

Smart Lighting Tech Brings Space Bulbs to Your Home
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Think it’s tough to fall asleep on earth? Just try to imagine what it’s been like for all the astronauts inhabiting the International Space Station (ISS) over the last 15 years. They experience day and night light patterns once every 90 minutes. Lighting can help. Even back on terra firma, people use lights to help lift spirits and regulate sleep when, say, the light is scarce in the winter

Now, a space-age solution is, figuratively, making the trip from the ISS to Earth thanks to Lighting Science. The company developed lighting technologies that sought to mimic natural light patterns and, as a result may be helping astronauts find some semblance of circadian rhythm normalcy. Prototypes featuring similar, LED-based technology were first installed on the ISS in 2008. Read more...

More about Nasa, Gadgets, Lifestyle, Home, and Smart Home

December 30 2013

Connected Home Invasion: You've Seen The Madness, Here Are The Methods

ReadWriteHome is an ongoing series exploring the implications of living in connected homes.

Craig Heffner, a security researcher at Tactical Network Solutions, recalls a time when he was able to compromise the privacy of hundreds of people for a few bucks. 

Determined hackers have always found ways to infiltrate devices. But now, when seemingly everything's connected, they don’t even have to try. 

At the Federal Trade Commission's Internet of Things workshop, Heffner told listeners about a hardware vendor that promised users a cloud-storage option, but forgot to purchase one of the four domains it had registered as trusted consumer data servers. He snagged it for $9. 

With this (legal) maneuver, Heffner could potentially have consumer data in the palm of his hand, all thanks to one thoughtless mistake. It’s evidence of a systemic problem with the Internet of Things and the connected home—a total lack of incentive for vendors to make their products secure. 

“Consumers don't care much about security, not really,” said Heffner. “This means that vendors don't have much of an incentive to put time, effort and money into securing their products. They're better off spending their money and resources on the features that consumers want.” 

Security: A Matter Of Life Or Death

In late November, the FTC gathered vendors, privacy advocates, and security experts to weigh in on the emerging consumer issues that come with connected technology. 

Even if consumers are lukewarm on security, the FTC is adamant about assuring it. “Companies that fail to protect consumer privacy will have to have it outsourced to the FTC,” said Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. One company, Trendnet, failed to protect its “secure” home webcams from routine hacking, so the government agency put a consent order on it—along with a mandate forcing the company to undergo biennial security assessments for the next 20 years. 

Keith Marzullo, a director at the National Science Foundation, named studies in which security researchers successfully hacked connected devices. Each of these examples terrifyingly demonstrated how such hacks could lead to loss of lives. 

When former Vice President Dick Cheney revealed his fear that terrorists would hack his pacemaker, some derided it as a sci-fi impossibility. But tell that to Kevin Fu, a researcher at University of Massachusetts Amherst who helped compromise one. 

Supposedly, data is transferred to doctors from patients' pacemakers across a closed system. But in 2008, Fu was part of a research team that showed the system isn't as secure as previously thought. Not only could the researchers extract patients' private medical information without their knowledge, but they could even discreetly reprogram the pacemaker in a way that could put the patient's life in danger. 

Today, Fu is co-director of the Medical Device Security Center, which is attempting to develop an unhackable pacemaker. The National Science Foundation determined his research to be so vital, it merits a $450,000 grant. 

Marzullo also brought up a research team led by professors at the University of Washington and USCD that was able to hack into a car, with dire results. They used a computer program called CarShark, which hacked the Controller Area Network (CAN) system installed on all new cars built in the United States.

The result of their research? They determined that using just one simple OBD-II computer port, they could break into an automobile’s main computer, insert a virus that would cause the driver to get into a car accident and then erase all traces of itself immediately afterward. Among other things, ranging from silly (honking the horn remotely), to scary (shutting off the brakes completely). 

It's frightening enough without a proof of concept, but the researchers provided that, too. On their research site, the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security, they show exactly how they did it

How To Hack The Connected Home

“With really big data comes really big responsibility. Internet of Things companies should be required to hardcode privacy in...”
—Edith Ramirez, FTC Chairwoman

Want to infiltrate somebody’s home using the Internet of Things? Every other month, Heffner heads a class, Embedded Device Exploitation, to show you how.

Attendees to the bimonthly Columbia, Maryland event are usually employees of consumer and security firms around the Washington area. Under Heffner’s instruction, students take routers and consumer devices—and compromise them one by one. 

Heffner wouldn't share which consumer products his students hack, but said they're all connected home devices you can buy at the store. In the first portion of the five-day class, students learn to break, extract data from, and otherwise compromise the devices. In the second half, students come to their own rescues by troubleshooting and patching those security holes.

Class activities span both hardware and software exploitation. In one lesson, students identify and extract critical data they've found in the firmware. 

“Students are always floored by the lack of security in these devices,” he said. “The device may say it’s secure on the box, but until you look at the code running underneath, you don’t know.” 

Heffner’s class requires students to already know some of the Python and C programming languages before signing up, but he said it’s usually not very difficult to break in. Sometimes, as when Heffner bought the $9 domain, or when Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill infiltrated a stranger’s home, you don’t even have to hack a thing.

“A lot of times, you don’t need a lot of skill to find vulnerabilities in these devices,” he said. “If you look at the vulnerabilities being published, they’re not sophisticated. Usually, the vendor put a back door in the product and somebody took advantage.” 

As a side effect of his occupation, Heffner has spent a lot more time than the average law abiding person thinking about ways to conduct remote home break-ins.

“If targeting a specific person, I'd start with their wireless network,” he said. “Even if their Wi-Fi network is properly secured, I can infer useful information from the encrypted traffic, such as how many devices are connected, who the devices are made by, and in some cases even the specific model and version of their wireless router. This is all useful information for mounting additional attacks.”

It’s important to think like a hacker—and to teach engineers at Internet of Things companies to do so as well—so users don’t have to. Consumers don’t care about security, he said, and they shouldn’t have to. That’s the vendor’s job. And if the vendor won’t do it, the FTC has already shown in the case of Trendnet that it’ll take action. 

“With really big data comes really big responsibility,” said Ramirez. “Internet of Things companies should be required to hardcode privacy in, and shift the burden of protection off the shoulders of consumers.”

Heffner says that students sometimes leave his class wanting to disconnect all the devices in their homes. But his goal isn’t to frighten people. 

“I don’t want to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt,” said Heffner. “These are things you should be afraid of, but not if you understand them. That's one reason we do the classes. If you educate people about what they’re up against, they can make informed decisions.”

Photo of Heffner's classroom courtesy of Tactical Network Solutions.

Tags: home

December 23 2013

The Best Way to Learn the First 1,000 Digits of Pi
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Product Name: Pi Shower Curtain
Price: $29.95
Who would like this?: Mathematicians, Nerdy Family Members, Children

For every broad-chested, extroverted, weight-lifting enthusiast in the family, there is at least one mathlete. This holiday season, keep their apartment appropriately decorated with the Pi Shower Curtain by Simple Memory Art.

Aside from warding off preventable, shower-related house floods, this shower curtain will also help your loved one achieve the common new year's resolution of memorizing the first 1,000 digits of Pi.

Who would benefit the most from this shower curtain, though, is the young math whiz on your list. Encouraging the eternal quest for knowledge, the curtain will get your youngster asking questions early — and the added benefit of requiring them to shower in order to do so doesn't hurt. Read more...

More about Gifts, Product, Math, Lifestyle, and Home

December 18 2013

Your Wireless Router Could Be Murdering Your Houseplants
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Are you slowly killing your houseplants? Probably. But there might be a reason other than neglect that they’re all yellow and wilting: your Wi-Fi router.

An experiment by a handful of high school students in Denmark has sparked some serious international interest in the scientific community.

Five ninth-grade girls at Hjallerup School in North Jutland, Denmark, noticed they had trouble concentrating after sleeping with their mobile phones at their bedsides. They tried to figure out why. The school obviously doesn’t have the equipment to test human brain waves, so the girls decided to do a more rudimentary experiment. Read more...

More about Internet, Wifi, Home, Wireless, and Wireless Routers

December 17 2013

GE Enlists Tumblr, Vine for Smart Home Relaunch Campaign
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Your kitchen is keeping an eye on you, but not in a creepy, Big Brother kind of way.

GE Appliances wanted consumers to know that its products were paying attention —and being responsive — to today’s lifestyles and habits. So it made a whopping $1 billion investment in three key kitchen appliances, redesigned during the past several years to include customer-inspired details.

To introduce the revamped products, the marketer launched a 14-week national advertising and promotional campaign this fall. The outreach, dubbed Reimagining Home from ad agency BBDO New York was a rare consumer-targeted campaign from the brand. It featured TV ads, an interactive website, original content on digital platforms, social media and a cooking-based sweepstakes with a celebrity chef Read more...

More about Advertising, Marketing, Ge, Business, and Home

The Promise And Pitfalls Of Connected Classrooms

ReadWriteHome explores the implications of living in connected homes.

Classrooms have historically been slow adopters of technology. When I was a young student, the latest blueberry iMac sat on my desk at home while my school library ran Oregon Trail circa 1990. 

Today, as connected homes and advanced consumer technologies increasingly become part of our daily lives, the tools used in class often still lag behind. But some educators want to narrow this gap. So, to shape the future of education, they're using the connected technologies available today to lay important groundwork. 

Welcome to emerging world of the connected classroom. 

Tools To Build The Connections

It wasn’t long ago that the connected home was a pipe dream envisioned by technologists. Now, it's a reality—albeit a nascent one—with an ever-expanding list of devices and connected services to make the home smarter and more efficient.

Likewise, some educators and administrators are relying on devices and connected services to improve the learning environment. Startup Versal, for example, aims to make lectures more engaging by helping teachers create interactive online courses easily, no coding required. For students, having immediate access to tutoring from the comfort of their living rooms could drastically improve homework completion and conceptual understanding. 

“Our primary concern right now is creating better online education,” Versal CEO Gregor Freund told ReadWrite this summer. “Computers are designed for interactivity. We want to help teachers bring courses to life.”  

To access those online resources, schools used to rely on stationary desktops and laptops as the backbone of their tech initiatives. Now tablets have stepped up to fuel digital education programs. According to a study by Pew Internet and American Life Project, 43% of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers say tablet computers are used in their classes or to complete assignments. And as many as one in five school districts have rolled out Chromebooks as well. 

Such services and gadgets offer mobility and ubiquitous connectivity, and that bodes well for the future of the connected classroom. Imagine homework prompts that automatically appear on students' devices the moment they're assigned. A tablet app that puts impending assignments front and center when a student enters study hall. Or a cloud service that knows a student's interested in, say, science because he always does this homework first, or she has perfect attendance in that class. 

Features like these are feasible given the state of technology today. And some schools have even begun collecting that type of data. 

Tracking Student Data

Last year, the John Jay Science & Engineering Academy in San Antonio, Tex., kicked up a controversy among privacy advocates. Its Student Locator Project, which sought to monitor kids' safety and location, tracked students using RFID chips embedded in school IDs. When a landmark federal court decision deemed it legal last January, the ruling opened the doors for broader student monitoring. 

Another school, Henderson Hopkins in Baltimore, Md., just launched a program this year to see how various factors—such as community, commuting and attendance—influence classroom performance. Sponsored by the John Hopkins School of Education, the K-8 charter school worked with Catalyst IT, an agile software development firm, on a system that monitors student information. 

“When you have a school that draws kids from a bunch of different backgrounds, knowing where a kid is on an absolute level doesn’t tell you that much,” Catalyst IT CEO Michael Rosenbaum explained in an interview. “What you want to know from a perspective of managing a school is, what’s the rate of improvement?” Ultimately, the goal is to predict trends and improve the quality of education on an individual basis. 

For instance, the school maintains a database that tracks the bus lines students take, so it can check that data against attendance and academic records. If a student arrives late to school often, it can pinpoint whether the problem lies with the bus line or with the student's personal motivation.  

Currently Henderson Hopkins inputs data manually, but its future plans include wearable devices to automate some of the tracking. This will make it easier to evaluate other factors, such as social circles and whether friends have a negative or positive effect on a student's education.

Such programs come with obvious concerns, particularly when it comes to the privacy of minors, but they also hold great promise. According to Rosenbaum, teachers have been embracing the technology, and response has been very positive so far. 

Connecting The Dots

While the trends may seem disparate, taken together, they begin to form a picture familiar to those who follow connected home technologies. Just as smart kitchens, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats and other appliances can collect information about how a person eats, when he or she comes and goes, or other lifestyle aspects, schools can use devices and data collection to get a more holistic view of how students learn and offer features that support it. 

This prospect spurs initiatives like the Common Core State Standards, an initiative that elementary and high schools across the country will implement next year. The idea is to integrate more devices that support core curricula, such as English and math. 

Common Core's standards include technological development for the schools, teachers and students—from basic Internet/connectivity infrastructure (such as routers and switches) and teacher training to devices and dedicated software. For example, one Arizona school uses Cisco's telepresence technology to offer an AP calculus class across 10 schools that they individually wouldn't have been able to offer. 

A Matter Of Resources

Ben Coleman, an eighth-grade math teacher in southeastern Massachusetts, assigns coursework using Android tablets. Reaction has been very positive, he says, primarily because the devices offer a new way for students to learn. Sounds promising, but here's the dilemma: In Coleman's low-income school system, students can't afford the tablets. And the district can't supply them for everyone. 

The major barrier standing in the way of the connected classroom appears to be the same obstacle that has stymied every other educational initiative: resources. 

Like many teachers, Coleman relied on DonorsChoose.org to raise money for the devices, but that didn't provide enough to cover all of his students. “We have to do some collaborative exercises, as I only have 10 tablets for 24 students,” he said. “Usually I design exercises that are short, so that every student has an opportunity to use the tablet in each class.” 

The Pew survey mentioned earlier underscores this dilemma. In the same poll, 56% of the teachers of the lowest income students said it is a major obstacle to incorporating more digital tools in their classrooms. Meanwhile, just 21 percent of the teachers of the highest income students felt the same way. 

It seems many schools can't get the resources they need to provide the fundamental digital tools and online education, much less advanced features, services and student data analysis that could power the next evolution of K-12 education. In other words, when it comes to the connected classroom, there's still a disconnect. 

But advocates clearly aren't giving up. They continue to explore ways to improve the learning environment, and they see consumer and data-driven technologies as the way forward. These may be crucial steps in the advancement of primary and secondary education, as they set out on a path that—hopefully—all schools will have the ability to follow. 

Lead image by flickingerbrad, school bus by bsabarnowl via Flickr

Tags: home
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Get rid of the ads (sfw)

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl