Nest Thermostats and EdTech

Ease of use, analytics, mobile, and elegance.

March 23, 2014

This weekend I installed a Nest thermostat in my home.  

You know Nest. The company that Google recently bought for $3.2 billion. The company that was started by former Apple folks who had previously worked on the iPod and iPhone.

Why did I drop $249 on a Nest thermostat?   

And what does my willingness to pay for a Nest thermostat say, if anything, about edtech?

Ease of Use:

Quick quiz. Which task is more difficult to accomplish?  Programming your programmable thermostat, or managing your online gradebook in your LMS? Setting up a schedule for how hot and cool your house should be based on the time of day and day of the week, or getting your classroom podium A/V unit to reliably work with your laptop, projector, and the videos you hope to play in class?

I’ve always had better luck with LMS gradebooks and classroom A/V interfaces than with the old programmable thermostat in my house.  

The Nest changes all this. Setting up a temperature schedule is super simple.   

What I also love about the Nest, and which I wish classroom A/V controls would retain, is its combination of the digital and the tactile. To turn down or up the temperature on the Nest you spin the dial. Intuitive. Solid feeling. Ph.D. proof.   

I miss having big knobs, dials and switches to control classroom functions. Give me 3 big “record”, “pause”, and “publish” buttons to control classroom lecture recording.  How about a dial that I can dial-up or dial-down the sound. Or a chunky physical switch that makes it clear that I am plugging in my laptop now, and that I want the projector to display the PowerPoint on my laptop.    

We have gone too far with touch screens and sub-menus in classroom A/V. Running my presentation shouldn’t be any more difficult than setting the temperature.


From here on out I”ll be able to track my home’s temperature and how often and for how long my furnace kicks on, and will hopefully be able to utilize this information to lower my heating bills.  

Each week, Nest will also send me an “energy report”, detailing how my energy usage changed and providing customized tips for lowering my heating bill.   

What I’m hoping is that I’ll be able to turn these data into action. That I’ll not only have a better picture of my energy usage, but that I’ll be able to utilize this information to make changes in my heating behavior.

This, of course, is the promise of edtech analytics. That by making the actions of our students more transparent that both instructors and students will be able to improve our practices.  

The point here is not that learning analytics are good (most of us agree that more information is better than less), but that they will increasingly feel normal.   

In the future we will start to notice the absence of transparent data rather than its presence. I think that learning analytics will spread quickly because more students and teachers will expect and demand analytics.   

As usual, the push towards analytics will come not from enterprise software platforms, but from consumer tools such as the Nest.


My wife agreed to let me install the Nest thermostat because she loves that she can view the temperature from her iPhone, and turn up the heat when she is about to get home.  Who doesn’t love coming home to a warm house after a vacation?

I like the Nest mobile app because it allows me to control my Nest thermostat from my iPhone. The Nest app not only let me see the temperature, but allows me to change the settings from wherever I am. From the Nest app I can look at my energy use analytics, set controls if we are going to be away from the house, and change the hourly and daily temperature history.

In short, the Nest app allows me the same level of control from my smart phone as I have from the actual Nest devices. The Nest app is not a “dumbed-down” version of the physical (or web) controls. Rather, the mobile app will be the primary way that I interact with the system when not at home.

We have a ways to go to reach mobile parity when it comes to edtech. Our learning management systems are getting better mobile apps, but they were all still designed first for the browser.  

We still don’t have mobile apps for presentation capture (content, voice, video, and publish) that work as well as the full OS client applications.    

For most of us, the fact that mobile edtech apps lag behind browser and client applications is not that big of a deal. We like using our laptops.

For our students I’m not so sure. They seem to be living in a mobile world, where we are mobile tourists. They might make more and better use of learning platforms if they were designed to be mobile first.   


Why isn’t our edtech technology more elegant?

Why are our classroom A/V systems complicated and brittle, our learning management systems inflexible and siloed, and our collaboration tools limited and incompatible?

Why can Nest make a thermostat that is so easy to use and so beautiful to handle, where most edtech tools feel like a chore to learn and a bother to use?

I’m happy that the guys that started Nest Labs were willing to leave Apple to start their business.   

I only wish that some other people will leave Apple with the same determination to disrupt the edtech world.

Or maybe Nest Labs will turn to education technology?


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