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Augmenting Formal and Semi-formal Learning Spaces by Creating 'Learning Zones' with Bluetooth Beacons


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Presentation delivered at ALT-C 2016 about a project at Sheffield Hallam University that used Bluetooth beacons to deliver materials to students and develop a sense of a learning community between students and tutors.

A research paper about this work is available at

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Augmenting Formal and Semi-formal Learning Spaces by Creating 'Learning Zones' with Bluetooth Beacons

  1. 1. Kieran McDonald Dr. Ian Glover Senior Lecturers in Digital Capability Sheffield Hallam University Augmenting Formal and Semi-formal Learning Spaces by Creating 'Learning Zones' with Bluetooth Beacons
  2. 2. Bluetooth Beacons Small device that transmit a signal over Bluetooth Can be a unique ID number, URL, or both Signals picked up by app on smart device URL can be opened directly from notification area Unique ID triggers a specified action within an app (if known ID) Adjustable transmission strength means area that receives a signal can be fine-tuned Short-range for very local actions Long-range for more general actions Distance from beacons can also be used to trigger actions Display wider contextual info when far from beacon, giving increase detail when closer Triangulate beacons to get more accurate (indoor) location Eddystone
  3. 3. How Beacons Work Simple identifier format means that the same beacon can trigger different actions in different apps. Signal effectively becomes a ‘public good’ - if it is there for one purpose, it can’t (easily) be restricted from other purposes Students can create their own apps that use the existing beacon infrastructure
  4. 4. Common Uses for Beacons Wayfinding around buildings and complexes Providing online information about a physical object Personalising information based on who, when and where Sharing information about a locale Showcasing in public informal areas Targeting information to specific people or places rerouting people around bottlenecks at busy times warning of potential hazards to people distracted by their phones (‘Smombies’) Virtual ‘graffiti’, location tagging and annotation leaving resources, artwork and ‘easter eggs’ in particular locations (‘Geo-caching’)
  5. 5. Example Uses for Beacons In Education Course, institution and staff promotion at open days * Virtual galleries showcasing student work * Richer portfolios at degree shows Location specific information in libraries, careers offices, student support offices, etc. * Automatically sharing session resources with students by linking VLE, location and timetable info Staff sharing their work or profiles as they move around the campus * Targeting important messages to students as they arrive on, or move around, campus Sharing information relevant to students around staff offices * * Currently being investigated or used at SHU
  6. 6. Project Background Graphic Design moving to a new ‘home’ studio in Sheffield’s former Post Office Opportunity to try something new with the space Integrate technology into the learning spaces Opportunity to reconsider practice Conversations and survey with students suggested they wanted: More opportunities to share work with peers Further connection with tutors Increased use of digital tools Additional guidance on software and techniques Staff motivated to improve the student experience
  7. 7. Developing Learning Communities The main purpose of the project was to develop ‘Digital’ learning zones in the ‘Physical’ studio space to help foster the development of different learning communities: Peer community Inspired by seeing what other students are working on to enhance peer learning (Process) Tutor community Seeing where tutors look for inspiration and what attracts them helps to model professional behaviour, and enables deeper conversation in tutorials (Closeness) Professional community Sharing work with, and commenting on work by, external designers helps to model professional behaviour, and helps raise awareness of student when they start looking for jobs. (Connection)
  8. 8. Learning Zones in the Studio
  9. 9. Presentation Zone - Tutor Community Tutor-curated content Delivered through Tumblr Scaffold learning outside formal sessions Develop student ‘closeness’ to tutors
  10. 10. Production Zone - Skill Development Guidance materials for software and techniques Video tutorials from Asynchronous support materials Personalised resources
  11. 11. Collaboration Zone - Peer Community Student-curated content (Process / Influence / Iteration) Pulled together Instagram content from any account into one central Pinterest board based on hashtag (Existing) Curation process automated through IFTTT (Removing Barriers)
  12. 12. Feedback from Students and Staff Students ‘Increased sense of community among peers’ ‘More sources of inspiration from shared resources’ ‘Gained a better understanding of their tutors and what it means to be a graphic designer’ ‘Developed further understanding of different workflows and design process’ ‘Want to see beacons used elsewhere at SHU’ Staff ‘Change in practice’ ‘Looking for new ways to mesh the physical space with a digital layer’ ‘Interested in developing further connection to students - Closeness’
  13. 13. Further Information and Follow-up Discussion More project and technical information on project blog: If you want to discuss how you might use beacons in your institution, let us know: Kieran McDonald,, @SHU_DTE Ian Glover,, @irglover This work was supported by a faculty Learning and Teaching Innovation grant from the Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences at SHU. It has also received a Google Internet of Things Research Award.