Private All Girls School

Preschool-High School

Princeton, New Jersey

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Faculty Spotlight: Lower School Media Specialist Jill Work on cutting-edge beacon mapping technology

Faculty Spotlight: Lower School Media Specialist Jill Work on cutting-edge beacon mapping technology

Jill Work joined the Lower School in 2016 as the media specialist, overseeing instruction in technology and library skills, and working with the faculty with technology integration. Jill has a BA from Arizona State University and a Master of Library & Information Science from University of Alabama. She brings over a decade of experience in both school and library environments working with young children. Prior to coming to Stuart, she was the children's librarian at the Summit Free Library.

Jill Work, Stuart's Lower School media specialist, was recently awarded a grant by New Jersey Association for Educational Technology (NJAET) towards an initiative in "iBeacon Mapping Technology."

Beacons are small devices, about the size of a quarter, that work in a similar manner to "find my iPhone" apps. They use Bluetooth Low Emission (BLE) to broadcast a signal and/or content, which BLE-enabled apps can utilize. The most common way apps use this technology is to send push notifications to mobile devices within range that have Bluetooth turned on and have a BLE-enabled app. Another common use is for indoor navigation, which works like an indoor GPS, giving real-time mapping and directions within a building. A third way in which they are being used is to power smart technology, such as turning lights or fans on and off, or sending messages.

After coming across descriptions of beacons in professional readings during graduate school, Ms. Work immediately started seeing possibilities for educational uses of the technology. When given an opportunity to write a small technology grant during lunch at a professional development seminar, she saw an opportunity to bring beacon technology to Stuart.

Some potential applications at Stuart:

  • Setting up beacons to send proximity notifications on a self-guided tour of Stuart's sacred spaces, with text, narration, and photography by Stuart students
  • "Mapping" a room or series of rooms with meshed (networked) beacons
  • Determining the most efficient placement for meshed beacons
  • Testing and documenting how various commercial apps work with beacons
  • Determining and documenting ranges of various beacons
  • Developing different kinds of mapping/scavenger hunt activities, such as collaboratively mapping a route using a combination of a beacon app for distance and a digital compass for direction, then have another collaborative group try to follow the directions.
  • Testing and documenting results of plugging in an array of variables in the beacon CMS (content management system) apps
  • Programming proximity beacons to bring up the relevant library catalog search page when entering either library
  • Setting up indoor navigation in the form of a real-time handicapped access map
  • Controlling smart beacons/apps via a visual programming language to power the "physical web," such as lights or motors or fans
  • Encouraging students of any age develop projects using the beacons for STEM fairs or PBL
  • Having the opportunity for middle and upper school student to code and develop apps that utilize beacons/BLE technology; there is a robust developer community with a lot of online information for developers, including open source (swipe) code

The grant will provide for three Estimote proximity beacons, three Estimote location (mesh-able) beacons, 16 Radius beacons, and three Radius USB beacons. In addition, four MESH beacons, which use smart technology and an online block coding environment, were purchase at the NY Maker Faire using the library/technology budget. Some beacons will end up with fixed placements, while others will be loanable sets in the lower school library.

Another technology set purchased at the NY Maker Faire enables small-scale sustainability projects such as powering lights or fans by solar panel and crank motors. One possible student project would be testing whether there might be applications for combining the sustainability kit with programmable smart beacons.

One of the apps that works with beacons also has a version that works with QR codes rather than beacons; when the QR code is scanned, the device will link to content, such as text, images, audio, video, or a url. This would be ideal for student exhibits, allowing them to describe their artwork or projects.

Ms. Work is currently collecting working smart phones (any kind) that are no more than two versions old. The phones will be used for the beacon and QR code projects, as well as for VR (virtual reality) and for activities involving photography, videography, and animation. The phones should NOT have a SIM card (which stores personal data), but SHOULD be bluetooth-enabled and wifi-capable. They can be dropped off at the lower school library desk.

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