The smart home reloaded – welcome to the intelligent campus

Wayfinding, intelligent timetabling and emotion recognition: The future of our campuses is smart

By James Clay, Senior co-design manager, Jisc

Smart homes are impressive, there’s no denying it. More and more devices can be hooked up to your Wi-Fi in order to do various ‘smart’ things – from smart lights to smart thermostats – and of course Google Home and Amazon Echo – all set to become run-of-the-mill (listening hairbrushes and emotional cars are on the horizon). This is all very well, but why aren’t we harnessing this technology to improve the campus or classroom? The answer? We already are, and we’re planning on taking it to the next level too – by using data.

By taking the data retrieved from sensors, tracking, and the Internet of Things, and combining it with data from other sources (library management systems, Virtual Learning Environments, even restaurants and catering), we can interpret patterns and learn how to improve the campus environment for students.

What are the possibilities for universities and colleges?

The potential improvements really are endless, and stand to support more than just the following:

  • Socialising with others, whether for academic collaboration, social activities or mutual support
  • Identifying and sharing events and activities
  • Providing real time contextual information that improves decision making
  • Raising issues and problems as they arise and linking to support
  • Moving around the physical environment and accessing facilities easily
  • Making the physical environment more comfortable and healthy

In short, anything that can make life easier for the student, improve their academic progress, enhance their emotional wellbeing or make the environment more comfortable and attractive would be of benefit. This could range from avoiding queues for lunch or learning in a more appropriate room, to choosing the right modules or accessing counselling when needed.

Smart buildings – the next level

Smart buildings on campus are old news (automatic temperature gauging, for example), but have always been very expensive, which is why many institutions just don’t have them. What we haven’t done though, is link the smart buildings with smart learning, which has the potential to be a ground-breaking move. Using the data collected through learning analytics (explored later in the blog) can inform decisions made about teaching and the space in which it takes place. 

If the timetable ‘knew’ what a lecturer planned to teach, it could select a more suitable room for that particular class

Intelligent timetabling is another possibility. Sitting in the same lecture room or theatre for every class could become a thing of the past. If the timetable ‘knew’ what a lecturer planned to teach, it could select a more suitable room for that particular class, for example – even providing directions to the room to each students’ devices.

Wayfinding your way around

Wayfinding (information systems that guide you through a physical environment, enhancing your understanding and experience of the space) is another component that could enhance campus life. For example, imagine heading to a lecture if you were in a wheelchair. A wayfinding system on a mobile app could direct you to an alternative route that avoids steps or difficult terrain.

I know how you’re feeling – AI and student emotion recognition

Can the performance of students and tutors be improved by a combination of emotion recognition and artificial intelligence? A number of universities are already looking at the possibilities of using video monitoring and webcams across the intelligent campus along with emotion recognition software. In lecture theatres and learning spaces, disengaged or struggling students could be identified and feedback provided to their tutor or lecturer, possibly in real time. In libraries and learning resource centres systems might recognise confused or distressed students allowing appropriate action to be taken.

The Sichuan University in China has been using facial recognition technology for attendance monitoring for some time and is now investigating emotion recognition. The aim is to determine the student’s interest level, identify sadness, happiness and boredom as well as nodding or turning of the head. This data can then influence teaching techniques and content to ensure that students are stimulated and paying attention.

Learning analytics and student wellbeing

Learning analytics aims to use data about students to make informed decisions particularly in the areas of student satisfaction, retention and attainment. It is seen as having the potential to improve understanding in student performance and interaction with university resources, as well as helping to spot students at risk of dropping out/those who might be struggling. In the UK, Open University pilots have resulted in a 2.1% boost in retention – see how Jisc are developing Learning Analytics.

Addressing the ethics

Of course, students can be – perhaps rightly – cautious when it comes to their data being tracked and used, and we’re taking the ethical side of the intelligent campus very seriously. 

Did you know that some supermarkets monitor your phone to follow which aisles you visit, even when you aren’t attached to their Wi-Fi?

These days, our data is constantly being collected. Did you know that some supermarkets monitor your phone to follow which aisles you visit, even when you aren’t attached to their Wi-Fi? They do this by observing your phone as it tries to attach to their wi-fi, and noting your phone’s unique identifier. 

At Jisc we take the ethical aspects of analytics seriously – and have created a code of practice that sets out the responsibilities of educational institutions to ensure that learning analytics is carried out responsibly, appropriately and effectively.

What next?

The intelligent campus guide from Jisc is on its way, and will provide advice, ethics information and guidance on implementing our top three intelligent campus ideas, as well as looking at what other industries are doing in terms of intelligent data collection. We’re still deciding the role that we’ll have to play when it comes to the Intelligent Campus, and there’s a lot of research to be done. Regardless, we’re excited to be investigating the space, and enthusiastic for what’s to come.


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