Using IoT in the Classroom Towards Energy Savings and Sustainability Awareness
The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities are two of the most popular directions the research community is pursuing very actively. But although we have made great progress in many fields, we are still trying to figure out how we can utilize our smart city and IoT infrastructures, in order to produce reliable, economically sustainable solutions that create public value, and even more so in the field of education.
GAIA1, a Horizon2020 EC-funded project, has developed an IoT infrastructure across school buildings in Europe. Its primary aim has been to raise awareness about energy consumption and sustainability, based on real-world sensor data produced inside the school buildings where students and teachers live and work. Today's students are the citizens of tomorrow, and they should have the skills to understand and respond to challenges like climate change. Currently, 25 educational building sites participate in GAIA, located in Sweden, Italy, and Greece. An IoT infrastructure  is installed in these buildings, monitoring in real-time their power consumption, as well as several indoor and outdoor environmental parameters.However, this infrastructure would not be particularly useful without having a set of tools to allow access to the data produced and provide the functionality to support educational activities. The GAIA Challenge2 is a playful interactive platform aimed at students, designed to serve as an introduction to aspects related to power consumption and energy-saving. In addition, real-time data from sensors in the buildings and participatory sensing help to visualize the real-life impact of the students’ behavior and enable competitive gamification elements among different schools. The GAIA building manager is a web application offering visualization of energy consumption and environmental data. A smartphone app allows end-users to access school building data from the GAIA infrastructure in a more immediate manner.
Figure 1: Examples of the IoT hardware used in the project: a) the IoT node used inside classrooms, b) IoT hardware used for educational lab activities, c) the exterior of some GAIA-enabled schools in Greece.
GAIA Pilot Activities at Schools
In terms of questions that GAIA investigated, a first one is whether the use of real-time IoT data from the end-users' environment can act towards motivating them to participate in energy-saving activities and actually produce some tangible results. A second one is whether IoT-based educational activities can be successfully integrated into the curriculum of schools. In order to answer these questions, we implemented a series of pilot activities inside the schools that participate in the project during school years 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The idea is that GAIA’s software components are used in the context of a set of educational templates and lab activities [2, 3] that are proposed to the teachers of the schools that participate in the project. Schools chose the energy domain on which they focused on (e.g., the use of lights), and used the GAIA methodology as a way to organize their interventions and be able to monitor results in a structured manner. In the context of the proposed methodology , schools followed a series of simple steps, in which students and teachers successively study their environment, monitor the current situation and detect potential issues, devise a strategy to achieve energy savings and act, and then monitor and review the results of their actions. The provided software tools allow for immediate feedback with respect to the effect of the energy-saving strategies they choose to follow and apply inside their schools, which could either belong to the ones proposed by GAIA or be something entirely different, e.g., a strategy proposed by the students themselves.
Figure 2: An example of an interactive installation serving as a "control panel", using touch-enabled cardboard surfaces and GAIA IoT data.
Some Promising Results
In terms of participation in the project activities and use of the project tools, one very positive result is the participation of students themselves through their registration and use of the GAIA Challenge, our playful introduction to the project. The Challenge includes a number of “missions”, in which students complete certain “tasks”, by answering questions, making correlations, etc. Overall, 3735 students registered to the Challenge, with a 92% mission completion rate out of those who started playing a mission, i.e., the majority of the users that registered and started playing, actually continued playing through the challenge and were successfully “introduced” to the aims of the project. It also helped to make this introduction without requiring the schools to dedicate additional time for this activity.
In terms of actual energy saving results from combining the tools and project methodology with data produced inside school buildings during related activities in the schools, we have seen results in the range of 15-20% at most instances, while in some cases there were both smaller and bigger energy savings. The key, in this case, is to engage teachers and students and retain this engagement by tying actions with elements in the school curriculum. With respect to engagement, an important factor has been competition: students were intrigued by the prospect of competing with students from other schools and countries and were further motivated to participate in GAIA’s competitions for energy savings and related ideas. An additional remark is that you don't always need complex tools to achieve good results; in many cases, there is a low-hanging fruit in energy savings in public buildings such as schools, where simple interventions based on actual data can have a real impact.
This work has been supported by the EU research project “Green Awareness In Action” (GAIA), funded by the European Commission and the EASME under H2020 and contract number 696029.
- D. Amaxilatis, O. Akribopoulos, G. Mylonas, I. Chatzigiannakis, “An IoT-based solution for monitoring a fleet of educational buildings focusing on energy efficiency”. In MDPI Sensors, Special Issue in Advances in Sensors for Sustainable Smart Cities and Smart Buildings, 17(10): 2296.
- G. Mylonas et al., "An Educational IoT Lab Kit and Tools for Energy Awareness in European Schools". In International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, Volume 20, 2019, pages 43-53, Elsevier.
- G. Mylonas, I. Chatzigiannakis, D. Amaxilatis, F. Paganelli, A. Anagnostopoulos, “Enabling Energy Efficiency in Schools based on IoT and Real-World Data”. In IEEE Pervasive Computing, Volume: 17, Issue 4, 2018.
- G. Mylonas, D. Amaxilatis, S. Tsampas, L. Pocero, J. Gunneriusson, “A Methodology for Saving Energy in Educational Buildings Using an IoT Infrastructure”. In the 10th International Conference on Information, Intelligence, Systems and Applications (IISA 2019), 2019.
Georgios Mylonas is a senior researcher at Computer Technology Institute and Press “Diophantus”, Patras, Greece. He received his Ph.D., MSc and diploma degree from the Dpt. of Comp. Engineering and Informatics at the University of Patras. His research interests lie in the areas of IoT, wireless sensor networks, distributed systems, and pervasive games. He has been involved in the AEOLUS, WISEBED, SmartSantander, AUDIS and OrganiCity projects, focusing on smart cities and IoT-related aspects. He is the coordinator of the Green Awareness in Action (GAIA) H2020 project.
Federica Paganelli received the Ph.D. degree in telematics and information society from the University of Florence, Florence, Italy, in 2004. She is an Assistant Professor at the Computer Science Department of the University of Pisa, Italy. Her research interests include context-aware and Web of Things systems, service-oriented computing and communication, and next-generation networks.
Pavlos Koulouris received his degree in Greek Literature and Linguistics from the University of Athens, Greece. He continued with postgraduate studies and research at the Institute of Education, University of London, in the field of ICT in education. He has worked in diverse areas of educational research and innovation for more than 20 years, including as a senior member of the Research and Development of Ellinogermaniki Agogi, a highly innovative school in Athens, Greece.
Jörg Hofstätter is the founder and managing partner of ovos, a digital design agency in Vienna. At ovos, Jörg is responsible for business development for online projects and games. He is a trained Architect at the academy of applied arts Vienna at Studio Hadid and has dealt with online technologies and Games for over 15 years. He is frequently invited to international conferences to speak about Serious Games and virtual/augmented space.
Helen C. (Nelly) Leligou is currently an assistant professor of the Dept. of Industrial Design and Production Engineering of the University of West Attica. Her research interests lie in the areas of Information and Communication Technologies including routing protocols and trust management in sensor networks, control plane technologies in broadband networks, and industrial, embedded and network system design and development and blockchain technologies. She has participated in several EU-funded ACTS, IST, ICT and H2020 research projects in the above areas.
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