Computing ‘in the cloud’ fills the learning horizon

September 18, 2015 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Ten years ago they were all the rage. Backpacks with wheels topped the list of supplies for anxious parents everywhere responding to media warnings of a generation suffering bad posture and back pain from lugging around heavy school book bags. Today, it is hard to find these tricked-out rolling bags on school campuses.

Perhaps their disappearance is a style issue, or maybe it’s something more. As schools move to “cloud computing” as a smarter ways to connect teachers, students and instructional material, bags weighted down with books and paper may soon become a thing of the past.

Cloud computing is often described as storage – programs, files and data stored on the Internet instead of on a computer hard drive or local network. Yet computer-savvy educators say storage is only one benefit of the cloud, and that the vast web-based technology helping to move instructional content online has the potential to transform schools in many other ways.

“Operating ‘in the cloud’ has benefits that go beyond just saving paper,” said Dr. Sal DeAngelo, Director of Technology for the Bethlehem Central School District. “Web-based technologies give school districts the opportunity to access software, hardware and infrastructure itself in cost-effective ways and provide economies of scale and consolidation of services that at one time could not have been imagined.

“In the not-too-distant past, if a school district needed to add a server to meet increasing demand, it required planning for adequate space, equipment installation, new wiring, among other things,” said DeAngelo. “Today, meeting all those needs can often be accomplished at the touch of a button.”

Like other districts, Bethlehem is making the move to cloud computing for instructional uses too, with some teachers housing materials, assignments and more in the cloud. DeAngelo says by doing so, teachers and students have easier sharing of information and ‘anytime, anywhere’ access to instructional content and resources, along with greater file storage capability.

Still, some of the greatest potential of cloud computing, he says, can only be realized when all students have ready access to devices and teachers receive the necessary training to integrate available web-based technology into their classrooms. In Bethlehem, some teachers use Google Apps for Education, and the district is this year piloting cloud-based learning beginning with fifth grade classrooms where, for the first time, Chromebooks are available on a 1:1 basis.

One Bethlehem teacher is already having success using the cloud to extend personal student learning beyond the classroom.

“Our Chromebooks have been a fantastic tool in fostering the reading and writing development of our students,” said Khalan Micieli, a fifth grade teacher at Hamagrael Elementary School. “By creating and keeping our work in the cloud, students get to collaborate and receive feedback from teachers and peers more easily than ever before. It allows students to work from home on pieces they may not have finished in class.

“Right now we are also using the Chromebooks to research ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere,” said Micieli. “Working with web-based technology and devices not only provides our students with deep content but helps them sharpen their technology skills as they go.”

DeAngelo, who also serves as a board member of the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, said though most parents and school leaders see the value of web-based technologies, he often fields questions about privacy and safety of information stored in the cloud.

“We use a secure cloud,” said DeAngelo. “Google for Education, for instance, which our district uses, is not simply an extension of the Google most people are familiar with. It is compliant with all privacy rules and regulations that school districts must follow, including HIPPA and FERPA, and there is no data mining involved.

“Our goal is to educate our students to the best of our ability in a safe environment while ensuring the school district leverages the value of each education dollar,” said DeAngelo. “There is no doubt the cloud can help us do that.”

Whether the move to web-based technologies in schools eventually makes textbooks, notebooks and book bags obsolete remains to be seen, however, there is little doubt that a cloud known as the Internet has altered the learning landscape.

Copyright ©2015 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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