Cloud Computing: What Does It Mean?

The term cloud computing seems confusing and open-ended. Many IT industry leaders as well as educational specialists that I work with claim that cloud computing is “the next big thing” so I decided to find out what it is, and through this, I came up with some questions to consider in realm of education.

According to Wikipedia, cloud computing can be compared to our supply of electricity, telephone, or cable television services, in that we use these services without having to understand how they are provided. We access them through a simplified view called an abstraction, without the details of the “backend”. These services are said to be housed “in the cloud” (para. 1).

To give you an idea of how confusing and wide-open this term is, check out the video below titled, What is Cloud Computing by joyent, that highlights the perspectives of multiple IT industry leaders as they try to define cloud computing:

For a very simple intro to the term, also view CommonCraft’s Cloud Computing in Plain English video and read 5 Examples of Cloud Computing by polrid.

In cloud-based computing, users can share services via any of the following layers (listed from the user to widest base):

  • Client: Hardware or software that is used to deliver services to the user.
  • Application: Centralized access to a software application and its maintenance.
  • Platform: The infrastructure that supports applications.
  • Infrastructure: The underlying systems that sustain the platforms that applications run on.
  • Servers: The hardware or software that supports the delivery of cloud services.

Some key characteristics of cloud computing are:

  • Resource efficiency: Allows users to make use of resources and infrastructure on-demand and with little cost.
  • Cost efficiency: Users can pay only for the services that they need, and only when they are needed. Furthermore, users can expand their use of resources quickly and easily and allow those who take care of their applications to deal with the technical details of expansion without having to do it themselves.
  • Device and location independence and accessibility: Users are no longer limited to one access point for services–the majority of services can be accessed online from any location or device.
  • Scalability: With on-demand, flexible services, users no longer need to plan for peak periods or down time. The system can expand or reduce its services for the load that it carries easily and quickly in response to users.
  • Security: Cloud-based services can be more secure than non-cloud-based services because many applications and users can share the cost of powerful security applications and resources. Furthermore, cloud-based services are backed up in multiple locations so users do not have to worry about damage at one access point. However, at the same time, with so many users sharing these resources, it can be difficult to enforce and monitor security throughout an entire system.

There is much debate over some aspects of the term. Some argue:

  • Just because you can access something remotely does not mean that it is “in the cloud”. Cloud computing is rooted in the way in which end users access services, rather than the services themselves. It is a whole new way for people to provide, purchase, and use services without knowing every little detail about them.
  • What exactly is being purchased and sold in a transaction between a buyer and a vendor? Who has control over each element in such a transaction? What supports and services come with these transactions? (This also brings up the issues concerning privacy, security, and maintenance of cloud-based services.)
  • With so many networks of users and providers working together, how do we decide who owns and is responsible for each part of the cloud, and how they should collaborate to support it?

Implications and questions for education:

  • We should focus on how services are offered as technology becomes more and more interconnected and complex. What should users know about it in order to use it properly and efficiently? What are the characteristics of an effective user interface?
  • With more services and applications available to students and their parents, how should we monitor and support access? What and how should students, parents, and schools share access to information and applications?
  • If school is to be extended into a true 24/7 institution where access is available for any one at any time, then how should applications be shared between educational institutions and students? How can these applications be supported and who should pay for them?
  • How can we select the most efficient, cost-effective, flexible, and reliable cloud-based networks for productivity, research, creativity, and socialization? What characteristics should we consider for educational institutions?

Even in its infancy, cloud computing is having a huge impact on the future of IT resources and infrastructure. This is incredibly important for the future of education and the workplace. What are your thoughts on this? How are you and your students planning for the changes ahead?

(Image: i made you…,  by tinney. 2006. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

From Scroll to Book to Internet: Educational Technology Changes Everything

New technologies can change everything–what and how we learn, know, understand, communicate, socialize, and think.

Many people have enjoyed the video called Help Desk, posted by Zauron3ooo, that hilariously depicts an interaction between two monks as they try to figure out how to use the new technology of the book, as opposed to the old way of the scroll.

I believe that Help Desk is a great prelude to this video called Joe’s Non Netbook, posted by sabestian. In it, an educator has a candid conversation with a teenage student about the difference between his textbook and the Internet.

What do you think of these two videos, examined together? A few brief thoughts from my brain include:

  • a move from linear to completely non-linear thinking (also a huge part of e-books and how they have re-defined literacy)
  • a struggle between how things were done in the past, and how they are done now, but no less effort or willingness to learn
  • the importance of learning about and discussing the medium or tool that is used to learn, share, or create, no matter what the content may be
  • the importance of organizing, linking, and categorizing information in the process of learning

What are your thoughts, connections, or opinions on both of these videos? I would love to know what students and teachers come up with when examining them together.

Glass Walls, Carpentry, and Design: Authentic Learning at High Tech High

The web is full of inspirational, mind-blowing ideas. This post is a follow-up to my last entry that examined the studio approach, used for years in post-secondary multimedia, design, and architecture schools to make learning truly authentic, deeply collaborative, and highly rigorous.

Today I watched the following video presented by The Pearson Foundation and the Mobile Learning Institute, highlighting the philosophy and structure of High Tech High (HTH) through the eyes of its CEO, Larry Rosenstock. Check out Project Based Learning at HTH:

This video is full of brilliant ideas! Here are some highlights and a few of my thoughts:

Full integration. Rosenstock speaks not only about the integration of students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and abilities, but the elimination of segregated classes that separate students who are said to “work with their hands” from those who “work with their heads”, schools from their communities, and academics from non-academics (in terms of subjects as well as students).

“There is no course here…[HTH has been said to be] a great liberal arts school in disguise.” Rosenstock’s background in carpentry taught him that everything (meaning every subject) can be learned through the process of design and conceptual work in all aspects of art, media, design, and technology. He argues that our understanding of the arts in the broadest sense should be combined to create fluid learning environments where students can build connections between all subject areas and will no longer think about subjects as entities separate from each other. At HTH it seems that students go to school to learn and grow, period.

Constant reflection and collaborative critique. The student voices in the video show a deep understanding of the process of learning and reflection for improvement. This important skill is echoed in Lloyd Rieber’s article, The Studio Experience: Educational Reform in Instructional Technology, which also describes an emphasis on constant reflection and peer/instructor critiques in the multimedia design program at the University of Georgia. I believe that all schools need to emphasize all types of reflection more.

A physical environment that “…doesn’t look like a school, [but like] a start-up, an incubator”. I am sure that the appearance of the school was the first thing that struck you when you watched the video. Student work oozes from every pore: floor-to-ceiling murals, objects hanging from the ceiling, an entire wall of screens displaying multimedia work, screens embedded inside life-size paintings of figures, and of course, the piece featuring interactive bicycle wheels. This fuels student reflection, motivation, and pride in their work. Furthermore, the walls are all made of glass. They physically enable fluid learning, sharing, self-regulation, curiosity, and non-stop collaborative engagement throughout the school—for students and teachers alike.

“If you treat kids with respect and enter them into the adult world, they will behave like adults…suspicion invites treachery.” The hundreds of student-created pieces in the hallways are free of vandalism because of the respect that students and staff feel for their work and their learning community. Rosenstock speaks of students rising to the high expectations of adults and peers while engaging in shared learning, focused on their passions. With meaningful projects and constant collaboration with peers, the level of student-student and student-teacher respect is elevated to the highest degree.

The most memorable and meaningful learning experiences involve: projects, mentors, community involvement, risk of failure, recognition for success, and public exhibition. “Rigor is being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously pursuing inquiry in their subject matter and is inviting students along as a peer in adult discourse”. Later on, Rosenstock also refers to social change as a catalyst for meaningful learning that leverages existing resources to improve peoples’ lives.

We can measure your effectiveness as a teacher through “the sophistication of your kids’ work. If your kids are producing work that is worth doing and has lasting value, and learning that’s worth learning, you’re a good teacher”. This is an incredibly powerful statement that not only tells us what good teaching is, but what good learning should lead to.

Real-world engagement. “I want kids behaving like an actress, behaving like a scientist, behaving like a documentary film maker, behaving like a journalist, not just studying it, but being like it, because what is adolescence, but trying on new roles and sampling new identities?” Rosenstock emphasizes that it’s not about training students for specific occupations, but immersing them in rich, real experiences.

(Image: i made you…,  by tinney. 2006. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

And by the way, the High Tech High website features some amazing resources, including excellent examples of digital portfolios by students and staff, student-produced videos, and much more.

What are your thoughts on HTH and its approach to project based learning (and so much more)?

(Image: The Studio, by tinney. 2010. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution License.)