Is Your Head in the Clouds?

How will cloud technology change education?

This week, Steve Jobs took to stage for Apple’s developer conference and revealed among other things the iCloud.  Apple did not come up with cloud based technology, but the idea that the second most-valuable company in the world is releasing its version of it is big news; especially in education circles.  When I was a pre-service teacher at THE Miami University (did that just for my OSU friends), I used a Mac Classic to write up my lesson plans and term papers.  After leaving college and taking my position as a social studies teacher in Lakota, I used Macs for twelve years.  Apple has always marketed to schools and has deep roots there still.  Though they did not come up with cloud technology, its introduction by Apple will make what was geeky and unclear, mainstream.

A very quick definition of Cloud Computing from Wikipedia:

Cloud computing refers to the logical computational resources (data, software) accessible via a computer network, rather than from a local computer.

Cloud computing has been around for years, but with Google Docs and more recently Dropbox, it’s catching on in schools.  Just imagine you are a student in Mr. Thomas’ Geography class. (Your favorite by the way)  During class you research the effects of extreme weather and use Google Docs to write a rough draft of a disaster-preparedness pamphlet put out by the government of a Caribbean nation.  You’re not finished with it yet and want to work on it later.  While riding the bus home, you access the Google Doc via your Android smartphone just to look it over.  When you get home, you hop on your Acer netbook and finish it.  You spent your day in the cloud my friend.  That’s the great benefit and promise of cloud computing.  Rather than a document or file being tethered to one device, it’s accessible anywhere, on any device that has internet connectivity.

The implication in education and society is enormous.  Reliance on cloud technology will require greater stability for internet connections in schools.  If you are reading this at school and your computer froze when I said that, I’ll repeat.  Internet access needs to be much more stable.  Bandwidth will need to increase exponentially if millions of students will be accessing information daily.  Given that we’re in the midst of a tepid economic recovery, some of these improvements may take time which is sure to frustrate teachers and students alike.  The clouds are rolling in though and not going away.  You can take steps today to prepare for cloud computing in your classes.  Here are two suggestions:

1. When having students create documents, spreadsheets, or presentations have students use things like Google Docs, Prezi, or other web-based technologies that allow for online storage.  Students can still download these to a local hard-drive if needed.

2. Sign up for a Dropbox account.  Dropbox is an online file storage site.  It can sit on your desktop and be used just like any other folder on a computer.  The beauty is that when you add a document or file to your dropbox folder, it will sync with every other device or computer you have where you access your dropbox account.  You can even share sub-folders and files in your dropbox folder with another person(s)….think students.  A basic Dropbox account is free and can be upgraded for nominal costs.

I’d love to hear from the crowd (not cloud) though on things you and your school are doing with cloud technology.  What additional suggestions or insights do you have?  Get your head out of the cloud and share! =)