How Drenthe College Used IoT to Solve Its Scheduling Problems

Drenthe College, based in the Netherlands, faced a problem that many educational facilities often encounter: their students and faculty were having a hard time finding free class and meeting spaces.

The lack of room availability was surprising at first. In order to accommodate their growing body of 11,000-plus students, Drenthe College had constructed a number of new buildings in the past 10 years, yet all this extra space was still not being used efficiently. Measurements of afternoon usage revealed that, in some buildings, up to 35 percent of the rooms were empty. Paradoxically, students and faculty were still spending up to 15 minutes searching for an available room. Clearly, something was wrong.

While Drenthe College was already attempting to predict classroom usage by counting students and teachers within a given period, the administration knew they needed a better way to measure capacity. They also wanted to update their scheduling system, which was originally designed for rigid class schedules and could not handle more rapid, on-the-fly meetings. As a result, rooms had to be requested well in advance, resulting in artificial bookings that made it difficult to discover which rooms were actually available.

To remedy this, Drenthe College turned to Winvision, a Microsoft CityNext partner, to implement a scheduling solution that would make the process of finding meeting spaces much easier and more efficient. Rather than count the number of students and faculty, Winvision decided to discover underutilized spaces by installing over 500 Bluetooth-enabled sensors throughout Drenthe College that could track movement and sound to determine whether or not a room was being used. These sensors also measured factors such as temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels, giving the school a comprehensive view of their rooms.

All this data was then sent through Azure IoT Hub, which connected to the school’s scheduling system and used Azure Stream Analytics to provide real-time updates about each room. In addition, Drenthe College deployed Azure Machine Learning to better predict room availability over the next several days, giving students and faculty a reliable way to schedule their meetings in advance.

Winvision also worked with the Drenthe College IT team to develop a mobile app, enabling students and faculty to see, at a glance, whether a room is available, what sort of amenities it has, its current temperature, and humidity. If they wanted, they could even use this app to broadcast their location, making it easy for other students and faculty to find exactly where they are.

Prior to the solution’s launch in September 2016, overall room usage stood around 65 percent. Since then, it has jumped to as high as 85 percent. Whereas students and teachers were previously spending 10 to 15 minutes trying to find a free space, they are now able to easily look ahead and book an available room immediately. “It’s much faster and easier to plan not just a meeting space but also our time,” Arnoud Wonnink, an E-Commerce instructor at Drenthe College, said. “The mobile website is just what we needed.”

What’s more, by using IoT-connected technology, Drenthe College has been able to realize other benefits as well. For instance, because their sensors can detect environmental factors, such as temperature and whether lights are on, the school has been able to gain more control over their infrastructure and maintenance costs, and save as much as €150,000 ($163,897) a year. They have also used this system to track the location of school laptops and even predict the dropout risk for students, giving them valuable time to intervene.

The success of Drenthe College is just the beginning. Already, Winvision has helped install over 3,000 additional sensors at colleges around the Netherlands, all of which are connected to Microsoft Azure systems due to their adaptability and scalability. Because these systems have been shown to demonstrate increased engagement and serve as an attractive selling point for prospective students, many schools are even integrating this type of IoT technology into their building and planning processes. All this spells a bright future for students and teachers in the Netherlands — as well as for anyone who cares about more efficient and successful schools.

To learn more about Drenthe College’s smart campus solutions, read the customer story.

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