How to use iBeacons in the classroom

This point in the school year is often a time of reflection for teachers, instructional technology coaches, and administrators. Practitioners begin to think about ways to redesign their learning spaces and schools in the upcoming 2015-16 school year to encourage innovative teaching and learning, making this the perfect opportunity to introduce an emergent technology called iBeacons.

What are iBeacons, anyway?

This technology, which works with iOS7 or iOS8 devices such as cell phones and iPads, allows students to react to pingable content that is presented in the classroom. iBeacons are based upon the geo-location of the users: what that means in English is that if the student is close to an iBeacon device in the classroom or the hallway, the Bluetooth signal will cause pop-up notifications/content to be displayed on the device. Consider the possibilities of the physical space providing learning materials to the students! This piece will highlight how some of the early pioneers across the globe are adopting iBeacons in their schools.

Pioneer #1- Paul Hamilton (@PaulHamilton8)

  • Date of iBeacon Adoption – December 2013
  • Location – Australia
  • Brand of iBeacon Used – Estimote

It would not be a complete piece about the history of iBeacon technology without mention of Paul Hamilton, Head of Learning Technologies at the elementary level within Mathew Flinders Anglican College. He inspired the global education community with his creativity in this area. As he coached teachers and designed lesson for students, Paul used iBeacon technology to create learning zones within his school and connect via a game of hot/cold on the iPad.

Paul placed iBeacons in his school to notify students that they are in different “learning zones” in the library and the technology/coding area. When students walk into the school library, the screen of their iPad turns icy blue showing them that they are so far away from the iBeacon – that they are “cold”. However, as they get closer to the iBeacon, the screen of the iPad the will turn from blue to yellow – letting them know that they are “warm” and getting closer to the learning zone. Then when they get really close to the iBeacon, there is a pop-up notification on the iPad which directs them to the desired content. Paul has this to say about the use of iBeacons: “they have created a learning environment where the learning finds the students instead of the students having to find the learning.”

At the elementary level, Paul uses iBeacon tech to promote active learning and curate exciting lesson plans which the young learners engage in through game based learning. Eventually, the games take them to a new task like coding in Hopscotch on the iPad or selecting a book in the library based upon the iBeacon triggered book reviews created by their peers. Also in the “art zone,” iBeacon tech creates a flipped classroom environment in which the students learn specific art skills by watching customized video tutorials.

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The iBeacon tech makes the iPad screen get “hot” as the student approaches the iBeacon. This is a 21st century interpretation of a traditional child’s game.

Pioneer #2 – Julie Wilcott (@WillcottJulie)

  • Date of iBeacon Adoption – November 2014
  • Location – Maine
  • Brands of iBeacons Used – rad Beacons and the Locly App

Julie first learned about iBeacon technology at the Apple Distinguished Educator institute in July of 2014 and was admittedly intimidated by the amount of programming required. However, in October of 2014 she learned about rad Beacons and the Locly App which she felt made the iBeacon user experience much less intimidating. In November of 2014, Julie integrated iBeacons into her presentation at the 2014 Boston EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, and since then has used the iBeacons in several different professional development settings including the Challenge to Change Conference in Italy and the Moosetech Conference in Maine. Instead of asking a participant to scan QR Code or use a short link to access her presentation materials, when the teachers enter her PD space – whether she is in Maine, Boston, or Italy – they receive notifications that take them right to the presentation materials.

Julie loves the way that pingable technology has influenced her professional development presentations by allowing participants to easily access information. She states the “pingable technology has made possible just-in-time learning, specifically the ability for me to distribute content whenever or wherever I am.”

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Performance Based Beacon Learning Task, photo used with permission of Jonathan Nadler @jnxyz

Pioneer #3 – Gavin Smart (@gavinsmart)

  • Date of iBeacon Adoption- Spring of 2014
  • Location: London, England
  • Brands of iBeacons Used: Estimote & Locly

Gavin Smart is the Assistant Director of Digital Learning at the Clevedon Learning Hub as well as a teacher of science for students ages 11-18. His school integrated iBeacon tech with their Clevedon School Handbook App.

A student in his school created a series of iBeacon notifications that would pop up to help new students become oriented to their learning environment. In the past, a student would have to go to a web site or scan a qr code to find out what the teacher might want them to do upon entering the room. Now, their iPad knows when the student has entered the space because of the iBeacon and provides an instant pop-up directing them to the learning task as well as their content for the day.

The iBeacon technology helps to welcome visitors to the school and parents to events. Also, the staff designed iBeacon treasure hunts, enabling the faculty to create outdoor learning experiences as well as iBeacon independent circuit training in the sports hall. Gavin says: “iBeacons have engaged students, staff, visitors in the school; the WOW factor really influences them to find more content and complete more learning tasks.”

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Student created iBeacon notifications linked to the school handbook app

Right now, I am going through the process of implementing iBeacon technology at the A. Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University. Since we are a demonstration school, we frequently give tours to prospective parents, students, or potential interns. Our building is almost 100 years old and visited by FDR, so I am currently working to use iBeacon technology on all five floors to provide various pop-notifications about the history of the building to give a sense of context when visitors are doing a building tour. I am grateful to iBeacon technology for giving me the opportunity to connect the traditions of the past with our present; I am optimistic about what pingable technology can do in the classroom and school spaces of the present and the future.



Workshop for ThatCourtney Pepe will be presenting about Scannable, Pingable, and Wearable Technology this summer at ISTE 2015

Learn more about iBeacons and other innovative technologies that allow you the opportunity to redesign your classrooms and schools with the future in mind with EdTechTeacher this summer.




Featured image via Flickr

Written by Courtney Pepe

Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction North Jersey, ADE, Doctoral Candidate, blogger, coder, surfer, life-long learner

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