May 2, 2009

An Academic Cloud of Computing

From my K-12 educational lens, I'll simply call cloud computing the maturation of Internet computing to networked computing. Networked computers come in the form of many different Internet mobile devices that can access web applications. Google Apps, Wikispaces and Yola are just a few examples of web applications that reside in the cloud rather than software on an individual computer hard drive. The cloud also enables computer processing power to be shared throughout the cloud allowing the users to experience normal network traffic speeds as opposed to many people hitting singular servers and causing a traffic jam with a specific application.

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as a "style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet."

Wow! Let's break that down for what cloud computing could look like in a K-12 school district.
  • The personal computer (by way of the Internet and browser ) is evolving into a networked computer.
  • Singular hardware, software and servers are giving way to a collective virtual cloud of resources that are seen as services on the Internet.
  • These services are scalable, in that they are controlled centrally by an IT infrastructure and can grow and progress at a manageable rate across a school district.
  • Visualized resources can be educational services on the Internet that may include, but are not limited to a:
  1. Virtual Web Desktop - An Internet portal that functions like a personal computer desktop;
  2. Content Management System (CMS) in the form of a District web site drilling down to a school website>teacher website;
  3. Learning Management System (LMS) controlled by a teacher for his/her class or course including resources and applications such as class: calendar, assignments, polls, quizzes, blogs and wikis;
  4. Student Digital Locker Storage - usually part of a CMS/LMS providing students a determined size of digital storage for all their school related documents and files; and,
  5. Software as a Service (SaaS) - or simply web apps, delivered and often shared with individual or groups of students and teachers.
By the very nature of this virtualness, the Internet itself has become the full-featured district standard computer we paid for upfront often with extended warranty. Networked computing optimizes communication and collaboration between teachers and students as a district-wide enterprise solution and saves a school district lots of money. As for the student laptop itself, it's evolving past a brand name and OS, it's becoming a personal learning device (PLD).

From Laptops to Student Personal Learning Devices
So, if the Internet itself can be our hard drive with an operating system and software applications, why do we in education continue to purchase expensive stand alone Macintosh or Windows multimedia laptop computers? If you don't mind the car to funding practices metaphor, it appears that many educators will gladly continue to let a student drive a BMW on a bumping road than drive a Toyota Corolla on a smooth highway.

As an educational technologist, I recommend that we stop paying for awesome sexy laptops over $1000 and start buying functional student laptops under $500. In my school district at San Diego Unified, we have around 100,000 3rd-12th graders. A $500 laptop times 100,000 students is a $50 million dollar expenditure . Now in these hard economic times, people think I'm smoking crack when I talk about a one-to-one deployment initiative involving that kind of money. In 2009, any student laptop over $500 is pure lunacy with regards to a one-to-one school district scaled deployment. If educational technology is finally going to be woven into the classroom fabric, all educators must start to think with a district brain and not a consumer heart. Otherwise, we are going to continue to provide students an average of 30-60 minutes a week of computer access, the same access rate we have had since the early 90's and before the Internet.

Fortunately, new 10"-12" Netbook laptops are now available in Linux and Windows platforms that are $500 and below and this is what school districts can afford to buy on a support, scale and sustain enterprise basis.

From Operating Systems to Virtual Desktops
Macintosh OS and Windows OS are becoming increasingly irrelevant not to mention the blotted price we pay in every box. (Education leaders, can we just give Linux a chance?) If the computing applications are transitioning from the personal computer to the cloud, the computer OS could be more efficiently used as a starter to get to the cloud engine.

Look at this way, your starter OS turns on the engine to get to Firefox which takes you to your school district login virtual desktop as your new desktop. Take a look at Stoneware's virtual webOS as an example of where K-12 School Districts should and will be heading.

From Hard Drive Software to Software as a Service
Without even really thinking about it, many people have already made the transition from hard drive software applications to web apps. This probably started for most people with their school email like Outlook Web Access (OWA) or their private email like Gmail. You basically get on any Internet capable computer and using a web browser, go to a web site, enter your login and password and then enter a web portal of applications. Google Apps is a good example of Software as a Service (SaaS). Sometimes this service is free like Google Apps and other times you pay for this service as in Discovery Education's unitedstreaming. So now schools can think about the options of having a free productivity suite using Google Docs compared to Microsoft Office and digital media tools like Picasa Web Albums and Picnik compared to Apple iLife. The difference here is that I'm not grounded with my one computer with hard drive apps. I now can fly in the clouds accessing my apps from any Internet capable computer in the world!

From the Four Walled Classroom to the 24/7 Academic Network
The virtualized services of a content management (CMS), learning management system (LMS) and student digital locker are beginning to converge from separate web apps such as Joomla, Moodle, Wikispaces and Google Docs to services that will integrate all of these applications into an integrated academic network accessed in the cloud. An academic network will actually allow younger children to cut their digital teeth in a protective and interactive sandbox compared to the current generation of secondary students who learned their web 2.0 skills on social networks in the wild wild web. Current examples of this can be seen in the open source application Drupal and the fee-based service of Schoolwires. However, I believe we are still several years away from comprehensive pedagogical K-12 academic networks.

In the meantime, let's continue to bring all of the wonderful clouds together to craft a 2009-2010 academic network we can thrive in. So all you school districts out there, do not purchase a multitude of consumer hardware mobile devices, but rather, invest in an economical student netbook as a scalable personal learning device integrated within an academic cloud of services.


Image Source:
"Stoneware, Inc. Home Page, BannerCloudComputing.gif." Stoneware, Inc.. 3 May 2009 .

April 4, 2009

Teacher you are IT! Vol. 2: Goomoodleikiog

As a follow up to my first Teacher you are IT blog that focused on Google Apps, I thought I'd give a shout out to two friends, Heidi Beezley and Leigh Murrell and look through their fantastic lens of Goomoodleikiog. In creating a teacher toolbox, I suggested that teachers look no further than using web based applications to create and manage their content. Internet or "cloud" computing gives teachers the freedom to control exactly how they want to communicate and collaborate with students, parents and colleagues. Heidi and Leigh expand upon this concept by identifying and providing instructional strategies for using four giant intersecting puffy clouds:
  1. Moodle = online classroom
  2. Google Docs = online binder/notebook/collaborative workspace
  3. Blogs = reflection journal/class discussion/sharing ideas
  4. Wikis = polished final products/brainstorming/collaborative workspace
from Goomoodleikiog - No, it’s not something I found at IKEA

Take a look at their first Goomoodleidiog video which focuses on the teacher perspective.

Then, view their brand new video from the student perspective. Both of these videos are extremely creative and fun to watch!

I think both Leigh and Heidi have done a terrific job in synthesizing the wonderful interactivity and power of these web applications giving both teacher and student the essential tools they need for their own toolbox.

March 14, 2009

Teacher you are IT - Vol. 1: Getting a Toolbox

I have been kicking around the idea of starting a new Information Technology (IT) blog post series aimed at teachers for a couple of months now. This past week, I came up with a title, Teacher you are IT while on a run at the PE field behind my local middle school. In this new series, I will visit topics relevant for teachers as they struggle to work within 20th century mindsets and classrooms equipped for a stand and deliver instructional model.

This week was also timely as I received my cherished newspaper version of eSchool News and the front page article, School IT support: Overworked... and understaffed by David Pierce. eSchool News has just completed a comprehensive survey in partnership with and the Consortium for School Networking that polled more than 600 school district leaders and IT administrators in November and December, 2008.

Here is an except. "According to our survey, the average ratio of students to district IT staff members is 491 to 1. When limited just to technicians and tech-support staff--the people responsible for fixing machines and keeping them running--the ratio is even higher: 1,021 students for every one technician. That's a far cry from the private-industry standard of no more than 150 to 1 r
ecommended by Gartner and other IT research firms.
But "technician" wasn't even the most popular response when we asked where school leaders could use more IT help. Topping the list was instructional technologist, which was cited by 85 percent of respondents. And that speaks to a key area where IT staffing shortfalls really hurt schools: If keeping technology systems up and running is a challenge, helping teachers use the technology to improve their instruction is an even taller hurdle. Only 28 percent of respondents said they have enough IT staff to integrate technology into their classrooms effectively."
As for the last sentence, I would say that the majority of that 28% are probably embedded in secondary schools. So you can see that the vast majority of elementary teachers don't receive any technology support at school or something along the line of seeing a blue moon.

Well to brighten up this doom and gloom beginning, I'm happy to say that thousands of K-12 teachers are taking matters into their own hands and empowering themselves as their own IT support system. Thanks to the many free and accessible tools available online today, teachers can create their own IT toolbox- independent of any school system conditions and designed to create and maintain educational content for their students and themselves.

In my experience, the first thing to put in your teacher toolbox are the read, write and collaborative web based applications by Google. Google Apps are at the top of the list because their suite of web apps is in itself an entire toolbox for any teacher. These applications and associated storage space are FREE maintained on Google's world wide servers by an army of 24/7 IT support.

Here is a link to web site my good friend Mary Lange and I created called Google Apps in Education. At this site we show that many Google Apps provide teachers and students communication, productivity and collaboration tools that are free to use with a registered Google Account. Here is a list of essential Google apps to use progressively use over time.
  1. iGoogle - Teachers can create a virtual desktop where all their essential applications and resources can be linked in one central place by using mini movable tools called gadgets.
  2. Google Docs - Think of having an office productivity suite of word processing, presentation, spreadsheet and form maker software accessible to you and your sharing collaborators on any Internet capable computer!
  3. Picasa Web Album - Teachers can create an online photo album to use and share anywhere with anybody they choose.
  4. Blogger - Google's Blogging tool and what I'm using here. Teachers can use Blogger as their class home page to communicate with parents and students. The instructional possibilities are endless for K-12 teachers.
  5. Google Sites - This app is not only a web site creator but by definition is a wiki where students and teachers can create web pages in collaboration with each other, how cool is that!
At Google for Educators you can discover how teachers all over the world are using Google apps across the K-12 curriculum.

So teacher, if you look around and there is nobody to help you with the integration of technology in your curriculum, what are you going to do? Are you going to complain to the people in your school and district that just don't get it and continue to beat your head up against the whiteboard! Or, are you going to be proactive and do an end-around from the educational dinosaurs and naysayers employed to protect the past?

My heroes are the teachers who find a way to be a 21st century learner; the ones who create and get a classroom presentation computer and then get a video projector and then get a document camera and then...

*Image of teacher and students from Oak Park Elementary, SDUSD

January 1, 2009

Ten Key Components in Building a 21st Century School

Every school that embraces 21st Century teaching and learning must have a School Technology Plan that is integrated with their strategic curriculum and instruction plans. I started this list a couple of years ago to help planning teams get a big picture of the options available for a 21st Century classroom. I will continue to update this list.

1. Develop a School Technology Plan
  • Read your District's Strategic Technology Plan
  • Identify Core Teacher Leaders (Grade level/Dept.) - Identify lead writer
  • Write Technology Plan - Include Funding Strategies, Professional Development and budget
  • Fund Site-based Technology Support Position - a must hire even during tough budget years!

2. Monthly ‘Just in Time’ Technology Professional Development
  • Interactive Classroom System in Every Classroom 
  • Professional development based on needs assessment and technology available
  • Monthly 1-2 hour sessions (Teachers have a full plate)
  • Curriculum integration utilizing project-based learning, digital media literacy and Information Communication Technology (ICT)
3. Interactive Whiteboard / Slate / Student Responders
  • Classroom Audio (Wireless Microphone System)
  • LCD Video Projector
  • XGA Document Camera
  • Teacher Laptop Computer
  • Mobile Presentation Workstation
4. Micro Learning Spaces
Here is a beginning list of items that could physically transform student ergonomics for teaching and learning in a project-based learning environment.
  • Large carpets, small carpets, mats, large and small vinyl pillows and bolsters, triangle wedges - Think of durable PE matting as classroom furniture
  • Bean bag chairs, reading pillow chairs, padded vinyl chairs and rockers.
  • Portable vinyl benches, vinyl sofa chairs on wheels, vinyl couches on wheels
  • Portable Lap Desks
  • Standing high bar tables

5. Student Computers
  • K-3rd Grades- mix of 3-5 desktops and/or laptop computers
  • 4th – 8th Grades one-to-one 10" Ultra Mobile PC Wireless Laptops
  • 9th – 12th Grades one-to-one 12" Ultra Mobile PC Wireless Laptops
  • One-to-One Computing: Start with School Program - Move toward the laptop in a backpack school to home program
6. Access to Broadband
  • Ethernet - Ports located around the classroom
  • Wireless Access Points located around the school
  • School Surveys identifying student percentage of home access
7. A Focus on Content Creation, Digital Imaging and Web Apps
  • Open Office/Microsoft Office/Google Docs
  • Adobe PhotoShop and Premier Bundle/ iLife/Picnik
  • Promethean Activstudio - Project-based software for all teachers and students
8. A Network Laser Printer in Every Classroom
  • Network Monochrome laser printer in every class
  • Network Color laser printer in School Office/Workroom (for special projects)
9. Access to Digital and Video Cameras for Visual Literacy
  • Digital Still Cameras - one for every teacher - a set of 10 for school/student use
  • Video Cameras - one for every grade level or department
10. Access to an Online eLearning Portals and Reference Resources
  • Virtual Desktop with web-based Digital Locker for Students and Teachers
  • Moodle Learning Management System for teaching and learning with parent viewing access
  • Online Reference Databases – Ebsco, Grolier Encyclopedia
  • Online Reference Video - United Streaming