Saturday, December 14, 2019

Smart campus, but who owns the smartness?

Learning analytics allows sophisticated analysis of students' activity in the university's various platforms and tools, allowing teachers and administrators to see who is falling behind, what they are having problems with and what types of activities give the best results. At the same time the campus is becoming smarter with the use of IoT (internet of things) technology and facial recognition, allowing automatic attendance registration, smart monitoring of room occupancy, car parks, heating control and even rubbish bins. Add artificial intelligence into this mix and we have the smart campus of tomorrow.

An example of the smart campus movement is Arizona State University, described in an article in EdTech magazine, How Arizona State University Built a Smart Campus. They have developed a campus app that has become almost default for students and staff allowing them to check schedules, grades, exam times, services, cafeteria menus, parking options, room availability and so on. Buildings and other spaces are constantly monitored and data collected about occupation and movement. This enables more efficient use of energy and provides vital data for planning new facilities and changes to existing ones. Major IT companies are pitching sophisticated solutions for campus management as seen in this film.

It's all extremely impressive but I have a couple of reservations.

Firstly, although the smart campus is very convenient and gives students and staff personalised and attractive services at their fingertips, you get the feeling that your every move is registered and stored. If all the data is aggregated all my movements, activities, purchases, studies, test results, hours spent in different spaces and travel will be available for possible analysis. Examples of facial recognition and ubiquitous CCTV monitoring seen in some Chinese schools and colleges in recent months can mean that there is simply nowhere to hide on campus. Your mobile is both the key to all campus facilities and a tracking device. The university therefore has extremely detailed data on everyone on campus and it is virtually impossible to opt out or even switch off. If that data is in the hands of a third party what guarantees are there that they will not sell that data or find ways of profiting from it? There are of course enormous advantages in smart campus solutions but questions about the use of personal data and informed consent must be foremost.

My second reservation is the focus on the physical campus and what sort of smart services all the off-campus online students will be able to access. These students are seldom mentioned in the smart campus narrative and I would like to see new learning spaces that bridge the gap between traditional campus students and online students. There seem to be few limits on the level of investment in the physical campus whilst the online spaces are in comparison extremely low-budget operations.

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