A Walk in the Clouds (A Teacher’s Perspective on Cloud Computing)

Teacher Editorial | By Shelley Grey-Sortland (BOLT student)

Head in the Clouds
Cloud computing is one of the emerging education technologies that is impacting teachers and learners, inside and outside the classroom. But what is this ‘cloud’ anyway? Essentially, cloud computing means “storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive” (Griffith, 2016). The image below illustrates how a variety of devices can be used to access a myriad of applications on the cloud. So if you are using the Web to access your data or your programs then you are taking a walk in the clouds!

cloudcomputing
Title: Cloud Computing
Creator: Sam Johnston
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloud_computing.svg
Copyright Information: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Software and the Hardware
You are likely making use of all sorts of cloud computing without even knowing it. Here are just a few examples:
• The ubiquitous Google Drive – I have to admit that I drink from the Google kool-aid. You name it, I use it: Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Gmail, Google Calendar. If it has a ‘G’, I’m
gaga for it. In all seriousness, the ability to access my Google Drive from my phone, tablet, and my desktop is so convenient. There is also, of course, Google Classroom, a free service, for educators to use.
• Apple iCloud – like Google Drive, iCloud allows online storage and synchronization of mail, calendars, and contacts. There are also cloud-based versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote (Griffith, 2016).
• Evernote – While I have dabbled in Evernote, I don’t really get it; however, researching about it I have seen it described as the “one container to store them all” (Pinola, 2012). Wherever you are accessing it from, you can take notes, store files, save web pages, and even digitize physical notes. This blog provides and an excellent overview of what Evernote can do for both educators and students. There is this excellent blog with tips on how students can use Evernote to study more effectively.
• Chromebooks – with a Chromebook, everything is completed online since there is minimal local storage and no apps. The comparatively low cost of Chromebooks makes it easier for schools to purchases class sets and for students to have access to this technology.
The infographic below show the growth of the cloud and how much money is being spent on research and development. Clearly, this emerging technology is on the rise both in usage and money invested.

cloud2
Title: Cloud Computing Facts With Real Time Cloud Services
Creator: RTCS
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloud_Computing_Facts_With_Real_Time_Cloud_Services.JPG
Copyright Information: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

What’s Cool for School
Cloud computing provides a lot of advantages for both teachers and students.
• Equitability – I used to have students who would submit their work in .rtf because they did not have Windows or another word processing program. And while .rtf did allow the student to share his work, he did not have access to spell check and other review tools. With Web-based, free programs like Google Docs, all students can have access to programs that help make creating their work easier. This is a huge factor in levelling the playing field as not all families can afford expensive software suites.
• Accessibility and Portability – Remember the days when you left your assignment at school or saved it on the school computer, and couldn’t work on it at home when you needed to? Those days are long gone. One of the key benefits about cloud computing is being able to access your files from various locations. Like Dr. Suess, you could access them in a box, with a fox, with a mouse, or in a house! With the ability to use a variety of devices, you aren’t even limited to a computer: you could use your phone or tablet. I clearly remember my first Smartphone and thinking, “Why would anyone use this tiny screen to surf the Web or read a document?!”. Now I know the answer – because you can.
• Feedback and Collaboration – I have many students who share their assignments with me through Google Docs. I like being able to comment on their work directly and provide feedback without having to download the document and share it with them afterwards. I also love working in a shared document. As someone who can be more introverted, I quite enjoy sharing my thoughts in a shared document as it gives me time to frame my ideas without being put on the spot. In my asynchronous teaching world, I have not found a way to incorporate this into my courses but I am on the lookout!
The Flip Side
As with anything, there are some points of concern with cloud computing. The two main points I came across were:
• Security – As Griffith put it, “That’s the rub. The ISPs, telcos, and media companies control your access. Putting all your faith in the cloud means you’re also putting all your faith in continued, unfettered access. You might get this level of access, but it [may] cost you” (2016). It is a bit unsettling to think of all your “stuff” housed in the cloud rather than locked safely on your computer’s local storage.
• Intellectual property issues – There is also the question of who owns the “stuff” you store in the cloud? Is there a difference between what you upload and what you create in the cloud? Currently, “there’s no central body governing use of the cloud for storage and services”; in fact, Griffith likens it to “the Wild West, where the rules are made up as you go, and you hope for the best” (2016).
And So …
Walking in the clouds certainly gives a better view of where we are heading in the future. There is no doubt that cloud computing has benefits for both educators and students. Learning can be positively affected as the playing field is leveled, and access is made both portable and varied. At the same time, there are some key points of concern that will have to be answered in the time to come.

References:
Griffith, E. (2016, May 3). What is Cloud Computing. Retrieved from PC Mag: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372163,00.asp

Pinola, M. (2012, November 29). What’s All the Fuss About Evernote? Should I Be Using It? Retrieved from Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/5964285/whats-all-the-fuss-about-evernote-why-do-people-use-it

About the Contributor

Shelley has been involved with online distance learning since 2006. After being in a bricks and mortar school for ten years, she discovered the exciting world of online teaching through Alberta Distance Learning Centre where she has worked as a marker, peer reviewer, and lead teacher. She is currently working on a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Technology-Based Learning through Athabasca University and is enjoying the challenges of being on the learner’s side of a distance ed course.

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