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Are Educators Ready for Cloud Computing in Schools?

In 2001, Mark Prensky coined the terms "Digital Natives" and "Digital Immigrants" to describe the differences between adults and students in using technology. Educators are the "Digital Immigrants" who have to adapt and learn how to integrate technology into their lives. Students are "Digital Natives" born into a culture and lifestyle where technology immersion is the norm.

Although I know a lot of educators who argue that immigrants can use technology in the same ways as the natives and that being a native does not necessary guarantee proficiency, I have found the Digital Immigrant and Native comparison to be helpful in understanding the essential differences in childhood experiences that separate educators from the students.

To explore these differences in perspectives, this monthly series features a discussion between me, a tech savvy old immigrant, and, GSD, a high school aged tech savvy native.

This year, we've discussed the ideal technology device, firewalls, technology examples in the curriculum.

Today we discuss Cloud Computing.

Have you used Google Docs, Evernote, or Dropbox? If so, you've experienced Cloud Computing, which refers to using services or applications online, instead of using programs installed on your computer.

Are schools ready to move to the Clouds?

Here's a short video about Cloud Computing in education from Microsoft.

The Digital Native Says:

My Personal Life in the Cloud

I started using Google Docs at the beginning of this school year when I joined the student government leadership class. I realized that with all of the documents I had to manage for homecoming, as well as my other school assignments, emailing myself everything or even using a flash drive didn't make sense. I didn't want to risk losing my little flash drive and losing everything. I had heard about Google Docs and decided to give it a shot.

I'm glad I did. Google Docs let's me create documents, presentations, and spreadsheets, all online. (In fact, I'm using it to write this article!) I can edit all my files online, they save automatically, and I can even share them with others so that my friends and I can all collaborate on a single document.

I don't want to sound like I'm endorsing Google, as there are other services from Microsoft and others that provide similar features. But for me, Google Docs has proven to be exactly what I need.

Google also has an online calendar service, which I started using last summer when I needed a way to keep track of my work shifts at my part time job. Keeping track of schedules on paper never worked for me - I always would lose my schedule or not have it with me when I needed it. Google Calendar solved that problem for me. I could pull up my calendar on my Android smartphone, or on any computer.

Google offers have countless other online services that when used together can replace a lot, if not all, of the programs you have on your computer. Other companies, Microsoft and Apple included, also provide similar online services. Many in the tech field believe that technology is moving away from programs like iTunes and Microsoft Word to a world where everything you need to do will be done online, or in the "cloud".

For me, that's already true.

Schools in the Cloud

So what can schools take from this movement to the "cloud"? I think there's a lot. Take Google Docs - if a similar system was used in schools, I think it would simplify a lot of students' and teachers' lives. Teachers could create and post assignments online, and then share them with their students. Students could work on documents from wherever they were, even their phones, and collaborate with others in a simple and easy way. Teachers nor students would have to worry about misplacing a file again. Everything would be safely saved online, accessible from anywhere.

My dream scenario is this: my teacher would open up a school webpage, type in the name of the assignment, select its due date, and select the class that it's for, and hit done. The process would be fast and easy, and would be done by all of my teachers. I could then access a calendar where I could see all of my assignments and when they'd be due. I could access any relevant documents easily, and edit or manage them online. If I used another online calendar service, I could set things up so that my assignments showed up in the same calendar as everything else going on in my life. It would be a convenient way for me and other students to see what they have to do and when they had time to do it. I'd get to do everything I need for school in the cloud.

The Old Digital Immigrant Says:

I've also been slowly moving to the Cloud. I use Dropbox to keep all my files synchronized on my PCs, Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I've been using Evernote to take notes in work meetings and for my graduate courses. Between these two programs, I have my entire four years of graduate school resources always accessible on my computers and phone. I'm not sure if I'm more productive though, but if I wanted to be, I would have instant access!

I also started using Amazon's Cloud Player to play music. Imagine if school recommended education videos were always online readily accessible.

An education project I currently work on for the National Boards uses an online project management system to keep all members, who are in different parts of the United States, organized and focused.

Our personal and professional worlds are moving towards the Cloud. It's tempting to imagine an education system with all the applications and resources teachers and students need readily available online.

Our challenges will not be technological; rather they will be cultural, organizational, and economical.

Culturally, educators and students will need to learn new habits and structures for teaching and learning. It's hard to unlearn a lifetime of carrying textbooks, notebooks, using lockers, and transferring paperwork back and forth. Schools will need a lot of support and professional development to learn new ways. Students who were not effective with the old system may not necessarily be more effective with the new.

Organizationally, professionals build systems and careers on specific structures and technologies. It will take time for consensus to decide which cloud technology should be adapted. Old technologies will not be replaced easily or quickly. Several legal issues like student confidentiality and data concerns will need to be worked out.

And will educators teach any differently to maximize the benefits of these technologies?

If those challenges weren't enough, the final challenge will be economic. Educators are always concerned about the "digital divide" and the unintended consequences when schools nationwide do not receive equitable funding and resources, resulting in "have's" and "have nots."

Yet, if the past is any indicator of how technology innovations are adopted, some communities of educators and students will continue moving forward with new technologies, regardless of the "have nots."

And in that sense, we will have some schools moving in the Cloud that will benefit from this ubiquitous access to applications and resources.

Students who can responsibly use these emerging technologies for learning will be better prepared for today's workforce where technology is integrated seamlessly in everyday business.

In the meantime, while the rest of the world moves forward, the old digital immigrants will continue trying to hasten a Pre-Information Age education system so that everyone will someday, so to speak, "get off the ground."

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