This is the first article in a three-part series.
Technology is ever-changing and often iterating overnight. As technology use grows within schools, educators should look for opportunities to fight the constraints of tradition and replication with a focus on constant improvement. One of the latest tech innovations that has been embraced in education systems is the “cloud,” a phrase referring to software and services that are delivered over the Internet. The adoption of cloud technology in classrooms in K-20 is growing rapidly thanks to free offerings from both Google and Microsoft. But rapid adoption doesn’t ensure effective adoption; successful use will require instructional design considerations, infrastructure strategies, and expenditures to support cloud technology.
When you consider where we were just two years ago to where educators are now, it is clear that the cloud is increasingly being embraced. Cloud technology effectively helps shift the burden from device to connectivity, addresses budget challenges, and leverages the skills, behaviors, and expectations that students have in other areas of their lives. Whether in K-12 or in higher education, the cloud provides a gateway for solutions and innovations in the same way that open source software and crowdsourcing does, introducing agility and rapid prototyping. Cloud-based productivity suites, such as Google Apps for Education and Office 365, have been the winning elements of cloud technology. For one, the technology has relieved districts of massive storage requirements that stem from digital student portfolios, large file sizes, and a growing need for additional space.
Google Apps for Education’s free suite of productivity tools offers the ability for students and teachers to create, share, and edit files on any device. The suite includes Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Sites, and Classroom. The suite’s benefits aren’t going unnoticed. Mike Daugherty, directory of technology and information systems at Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Ohio, has seen the benefits in action:
“Real-time collaboration, continued and rapid advancements based on customer feedback, and cloud storage with automatic save functionality are the platform’s real strengths.”
While Microsoft was initially slow to adapt, they have launched the Office 365 solution, gaining traction in cloud technology and joining Google to close gaps in collaboration. With its Office 365 Education offering, Microsoft provides email, sites, online document editing and storage, IM, and web conferencing.
As educators continue to embrace the cloud, how can we ensure its full potential is realized? Cloud technology has already closed gaps in collaboration, but for students to associate the tools with opportunities to communicate beyond classroom walls, teaching methods will have to change. Schools will need to offer ongoing professional development that keeps pace with new technology options, educates teachers about best practices in instructional delivery, and arms them with enough knowledge to make the most out of the technology.
In addition, IT leadership will need to reexamine the resource investments (such as connectivity vs. storage) they need to make. The cloud is commoditizing layers of proprietary infrastructure, and education systems may have the opportunity take advantage of the new opportunities.
A strategic approach to cloud adoption is required as its use in education is growing. Even though the need to incorporate cloud technology into infrastructure and strategy is clear, the details can be trying. A modernized cloud-based infrastructure will not look the same at every school, and it’s important that as systems restructure, they do so purposefully. In the future, this cloud series will explore important considerations such as security, affordability, and access.
“Education stands at the forefront of cloud adoption, says new report” TechRepublic. August 5 2014.
“The State of Cloud Computing in K-12” TechDecisions. 2014.
“Google for Education” Google. 2015.
“IT pros say Google slowly infiltrating enterprise, education” CIO. June 4 2015.
“Microsoft Office 365 Now Free for Teachers and Students Worldwide” Maximum PC. February 24 2015.
“The Classroom and the Cloud: A Bright Forecast for 2020” Edutopia. February 5 2014.