Dwight Stewart, founder and chief information officer of Igor, discusses how smart building technology can assist schools in a post-COVID world
For decades, schools and universities have been under immense pressure to achieve a range of high-stakes outcomes – from elevated student performance to safety amid threats of violence. Add the need to maintain clean, virus-free spaces to that list and it is easy to see that human leaders could use an assist from their technological counterparts. While education is not the only field poised to benefit from the marriage of mind and machine, it is a field that needs this benefit acutely and immediately as staff welcome students back to their buildings for the 2020-21 school year.
Common sense – and numerous studies – tells us that learning is nearly impossible when teachers and students feel unsafe. The lack of focus that comes from anxiety is only compounded when parents and guardians are also worried about their child’s health; this is why we see so many schools and universities strategically over-communicating their return-to-learn plans. While this communication calms some, in order to continue to be effective in reassuring stakeholders that schools are clean and safe, schools will need to back up their plans with proof of efficacy.
Smart buildings generate a data trail for stakeholder reassurance
In today’s environment, providing evidence to various communities can be achieved through the capture, analysis and sharing of data. Smart buildings enable this activity, more readily supplying teachers and staff, parents and students, regulators and others the proof they need that the school is doing everything possible to keep learning spaces sanitised.
Democratized IoT tech keeps intelligent spaces within budget
The phraseology ‘smart building’ tends to make tech-enabled learning environments feel out of reach, especially given the ever-shrinking budgets faced by many educators. However, as internet of things (IoT) technology becomes democratised, school systems are deploying surprisingly cost-effective, easy to implement solutions that start small and evolve over time. While these systems were once akin to intricate model airplane kits, they are now much more like pre-packaged Lego sets, designed to make anyone a master builder.
Intelligent disinfection is a hyper-relevant place to begin
Identifying a ‘start small’ case to kickstart a smart building initiative can be a stumbling block; this is because there are so many ways intelligent spaces can advance performance objectives that school business managers (SBMs) often struggle to get stakeholders to agree on where to begin. Now, with so much emphasis on clean buildings, SBMs have a hyper-relevant issue around which nearly everyone can rally.
Automating a layered approach to cleaning
Smart building technology connects traditionally siloed disinfection and sanitation systems, such as UV-C lighting and air purifiers, making it easier to automate a layered cleaning strategy. Facility managers, teachers, volunteers – anyone – can confidently sterilise individual rooms or entire schools overnight or throughout the day safely, and with very little training on the system.
Automating the disinfection process has several advantages; among them is removal of the human element. Not only does this ensure the consistency of cleaning procedures, it also mitigates the exposure risk some disinfection methods may pose to people. One press of a button initiates a series of events, including a scan for humans in the space, the triggering of warning sounds and lights, the disinfection of the space and, importantly, a data trail of all activity.
Of course, smart buildings do not eliminate the need for human ingenuity in the education sector; nothing can replace the creativity, compassion and empathy people need to continuously evolve schools and improve student outcomes. But, smart buildings, and the technology that powers, them allow passionate educators to direct their talents where they have most impact – on the long-term health and wellness of their students.