Understanding The Cloud

cloud

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Cloud computing is one of the most difficult concepts to explain to people who spend most of their time working with children, running a school, and monitoring educational processes. Cloud computing is difficult to explain because it is imbued with industry jargon and misleading sales language, and when most people think about it, the concept is odd. After all, if cloud computing is fairly new, and the Internet is not new, then what were people doing before? How were they working? Why did anyone need, or want, to switch from one way of working to another?

Clearing the Jargon & Defining the Concept

The official definition of cloud computing according to Wikipedia is a kind of Internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. It is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services),[1][2] which can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort. Cloud computing and storage solutions provide users and enterprises with various capabilities to store and process their data in third-party data centers.[3] It relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economy of scale, similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network.[1]

In the past few years I have spoken at a few cloud computing conferences.  Companies like Microsoft and Amazon were represented by experts, sales people, and users. From these experiences, and from using multiple cloud services, I have determined that a cloud based solution should meet a few basic criteria in order to be considered a “cloud technology”:

  1. The cloud is a storage flexible experience. This means it is simple to add extra storage space, or reduce storage space, without moving or damaging existing data.
  2. Cloud systems can burst and get more power when they need more power. Imagine a fast food restaurant that serves breakfast. They know that 98% of Mondays require four staff to handle the 6:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. crowd. However, they always have a manager on staff as well, just in case there is a Monday where a fifth person is needed for an unexpected 7:30 a.m.- 8:00 a.m. rush. This person is already resourced, there is no extra cost to the organization as long as they are only helping out (bursting) for a short period of time.
  3. The cloud offers software as a service (SAAS). For many decades, using software meant a person needed to install something on a personal computer or use software hosted on an local network, intranet, or extranet. SAAS allows a single browser (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Etc.,) to access and run software with little to no data being stored on a personal computer or device. The Chrome Book using Google Chrome is an excellent example of this idea in action.
  4. Collaboration and sharing, at various permission levels, are a foundational part of cloud based solutions. This does not mean sharing via email and attachments. This refers to the ability to have a central source of data that individuals can work on in real-time. The work can be synchronous or asynchronous.
  5. Backing-up data and protecting deleted files is done automatically. Cloud technology includes a few levels of backup protection that require little to no professional management. This helps supplement private/local backup and archival processes.

Vendors and brands are often associated with cloud solutions, however, there are plenty of private cloud solutions that meet all five criteria above, and are managed like any other technology inside a company. There are cloud based hardware and software solutions that medium and small businesses can buy to easily manage their own solutions and protect all their data. In fact, using a cloud based solution does not mean that people are required to surrender all their data and privacy to big companies.

Why Did Schools Start to Switching to the Cloud?

In 2011, Yale University announced they were moving from their locally hosted e-mail solution to Google Apps for Education. This was not an easy move, nor a move that was without controversy. However, when Yale did make the move, any doubts around the legitimacy of working in an educational cloud based environment were laid to rest. Currently there are over 100,000 million educational cloud users. Some of these people are using the technology as individuals, and others as part of an organization.

When a school runs all their technology inside of a school owned building/property, they incur many costs. As the school grows and expands, the costs will eventually become fixed onto a cycle.  It is a misconception that the cycle of expenditure will stop once a school creates a stable ecosystem. Every 3-5 years upgrades will be required, items will need to be replaced,and  training and certifications must be regularly provided to staff. Running servers, software, storage, and other resources on premises is expensive.

When companies like Google began to offer email, storage, software, and other services to schools for fraction of the cost, and without the need to maintain a large IT staff, schools took the offer. Institutions like Yale found they could re-purpose their infrastructure to create niche resources for research based departments, engineering, media, and other disciplines requiring technology that needed to be on-campus.

Although schools may have been working in a similar fashion in the pre-cloud environment, they were paying a higher rate to do that same work than they are in a cloud based environment. I also believe that many educators and students also like the flexibility and choices available on cloud platforms. They are not solely dependent on a single IT department to solve their problems and approve solutions.

The Cost of the Cloud

A misconception with cloud technology is that it is 100% free. Schools should budget between $4.00  – $9.00 USD a month per teacher and administrator in order to ensure there is an annual line item to pay for cloud services. This price range will cover most plans offered to schools that qualify for educational pricing, with some money left over for third-party subscriptions. Students are usually free.

These additional costs often include:

  1. Special or additional storage
  2. Video streaming
  3. Interactive Classrooms sitting atop the cloud services
  4. Branding services for email
  5. Software as a Service(SAAS) from third parties

Steve Jobs famously avoided using focus groups. He said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. As users use a new service, they create a demand for solutions that were currently non-existent.

A very common scenario demanding budgetary resources would go something like this:

  • A teacher shares a file to a class of students.
  • Everyone enjoins the collaboration.
  • The teacher would like to do real-time formative assessment within the collaborative environment.
  • This feature is provided by a third-party, or must be developed by the school. Therefore, an unexpected cost is incurred.

In scenarios like this one, having the pre-arranged line item allows the school to be as flexible as the cloud.

Should Schools Be Using Cloud Services?

In my opinion, for most schools, the answer is absolutely ‘Yes’. When schools run everything internally their technology resources and support end up being mainly focused on school infrastructure and day-to-day operations. There is little time for improving the technology involved in teaching and learning without adding more people to the problem and straining the HR budget.

Cloud based solutions can not only liberate physical and digital resources, they can also allow employees to refocus on other areas within teaching and learning.

Many talented people working in schools spend a significant amount of their time keeping the gears oiled and the engine humming. These people could be focused on implementing new technology that connects to the classroom, to the parents, or to saving valuable time for teachers.

 

The Joy of Text

I’ve argued in the past that the evolution of languages – including texting –  is an inevitable feature of human societies and we need to adapt and educate, rather than deny or lament (Like, get over it!).

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.34.29 amI had imagined that adaption means being aware of the choices we make when we use different discourses; and choosing the right ones for the right occasions and the right people.  But I have recently come to see that while this is an important aspect of language, some new media present genuinely different opportunities for conversation.  I’m thinking of texting here – and I surprise myself because my skepticism of the value of texting for anything beyond the trivial was only slightly less than my in-principle irritation of Twitter.

I remain a Twitter-skeptic, but this TED talk from Nancy Lublin was, for me, totally compelling.  She points out that the apparent vices of anonymity, distance, and facelessness of texting can be virtues; that they can be precisely the reasons that we can sometimes open up new, profound and vital conversations; conversations that are otherwise too intimate, painful and hard to face.  In particular, she is talking about conversations that are not mediated by embarrassment, tears, or fears when they are conducted by texted rather than in person.  You see, Ms Lublin runs texting helplines across the USA, and has been collecting data about who texts for help when, in what circumstances.  She noteswe spike everyday at lunch time — kids are sitting at the lunch table and you think that she’s texting the cute boy across the hall, but she’s actually texting us about her bulimia. And we don’t get the word “like” or “um” or hyperventilating or crying. We just get facts.

So it seems that people may be more likely to seek help by text than by phone, or in person.  Perhaps it’s the lack of the need to speak; perhaps it’s simply the pared-down nature of texting language; or the tech-mediated character that mobile technology brings. In any case, it’s a crucial difference, and  the reason doesn’t really matter.   We have to meet people where they are, not where we are.

I’ve learnt that perhaps foregrounding face-to-face conversations over other modes of communication isn’t always as good a principle as I had thought, and I’m trying to be a little more flexible.  Now when a student emails (emails are a little different, but I think the same may apply) I’ll try not to react with my usual please come and see me in person until I have made some space for disclosures that might not otherwise emerge.  Similarly for my own kids.

I wonder if our doubt over the roles of new media in conversations will seem quaint in years to come.  In Victorian times, folk wondered if it was disgraceful to chat on the telephone while improperly dressed.  For me, that’s salutary.  I may even re-visit Twitter.

Summer Sun…

So here we are staring down the final four and a half days of the school year, and before we all head off to soak up that summer sun I want to take this chance to say thank you. The work that you have all put in to make us a better school over the past ten months has been staggering, and I want you to know that I recognize and appreciate your commitment, your effort, and your passion. This has been a year of change for us in many ways, and much of the transformative work that has been introduced is starting to take shape, and it’s all because of you. I feel honored and privileged and very, very proud to work alongside you on this journey, and I have become a better person, leader and educator because of what you bring to our students and to our surrounding community each and everyday…thank you!

 

I wrote a post around this time last year all about the opportunity that we all have over the summer holiday to reflect, and to emerge in August a better version of ourselves. Not only is the summer break a chance to relax and recharge, it’s also a chance to grow and to critically think about ways that we can all improve our practice. I’d like to share again a piece of what I wrote last June as I believe it’s a good message to chew on as you chase your upcoming adventures…

 

        As you’re sitting on the deck of your cottage, or swimming in the lake, or playing a leisurely round of golf, or even engaging in some summer professional development, I’m asking that you think about the ways that you can emerge from your well-deserved holiday a better version of yourself. What are the areas of your life, and your teaching that need a bit of a push…are there ways that you can enhance your lesson planning and delivery…are there ways that you can build stronger relationships with your students, particularly the ones that you find the most difficult to engage…are there ways that you can become a better teacher leader…are there ways that you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and take more risks…are there ways that you can become a better teammate and colleague…and are there ways that you can become more innovative in your approach to instruction? My bet is that the answer is yes to most if not all of these questions, and the challenge that I’m giving to you is to not just think about them, but to act on them, and come back in August armed with concrete ways to make next year the best year of your professional life. There are many educators out there that get so comfortable and complacent in their job that they end up delivering the same year over and over again, and the only thing that changes are the beautiful and eager faces in front of them…don’t be that educator. 

 

         We have a busy week ahead of us as we speed toward the end, and I’m asking you all to finish strong, and to make this a week that our beautiful kids will remember. The last week of the year can be a very emotional time for students as you know…and for us too. Saying goodbye to leaving friends and families is hard, and couple that with the excitement around the upcoming holiday and emotions can start to overflow. Please keep a close eye on how our kids are doing this week, and be there for them…let’s be there for each other as well. The incredible work that you’ve put in this year to build strong and lasting relationships will pay off this week, so be present and make Friday’s send off a positive experience full of love, smiles, and heartfelt gratitude. Enjoy this beautiful summer poem by Carl Sandburg, and enjoy that beautiful summer sun that’s beginning to rise…all my positive thoughts and energy to those of you moving on, and for those of you returning, Im excited to do it all again next year. Have an amazing holiday everyone…you all deserve it!

 

Summer Stars – Carl Sandburg       

Bend low again, night of summer stars. 

So near you are, sky of summer stars,

So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,

Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl, 

So near you are, summer stars, So near, strumming, strumming,

So lazy and hum-strumming.

 
 

Quote of the Week…

I wonder what it would be like to Iive in a world where it was always June.

– L.M. Montgomery

 

Related Articles and Resources- 

http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/50-top-sources-to-become-a-better-teacher/

http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/heart-teaching-what-it-means-be-great-teacher

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZTlJAS8_gE

http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2015/06/09/3-thing-you-can-do-this-summer.html

http://teach.com/who/great-teachers-have-goals

The EdTech Blog for School Administrators

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Let’s talk numbers.

  • The number of iPads sold in the first quarter of 2014: 26 million[i]
  • Revenue generated in 2015 for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3: $1.1 billion US Dollars[ii]
  • Number of Google Apps for Education users in 2015: 40+ million[iii]
  • Apps categorized as educational in the Apple App Store: 75,000+
  • Purchasing 100 MacBook Air based models: $80,000.00+ US Dollars

Technology in all of its forms is a ubiquitous presence both on and off campus. The use and misuse of technology can positively and negatively impact learning, school culture, and school community. Senior leadership need to be well informed about technology, and they need strategies to efficiently provide oversight and make decisions concerning complex choices.

Learning to maintain and nurture the status quo when it is working well, is just as important as innovating and implementing change when the status quo is not working. These decisions often fall upon small teams of senior leaders who will ultimately be accountable for success or failure.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee[iv] who, despite Al Gore’s comments[v], did invent the world wide web and was knighted for this accomplishment. Sir Tim once said, “We can’t blame the technology when we make mistakes.” However, technology is often blamed, when errors are very human. Oversight and management of technology is difficult and should be a focused team effort, that includes a clear understanding of the important, urgent, and trivial.

The main focus of this blog will not be to review products and services. Readers will get a regular and concise point-of-view that can be used for current and important discussions. Comments will be welcome and responses will be timely. The mission and vision of the blog is to help inform and shape policy through ideas and discourse. The writing will help readers work towards clarity in technology concepts, look at methods for providing oversight, and reflect on methods to integrate technology into other levels of leadership.

Every attempt will be made to provide enough background information and support material so that further and informed research can be conducted by readers. Personal opinion, practice, and stories will hopefully add comedic relief, but those will always be on-target and concise. Unless requested by readers, rants and raves will not be the norm.

Welcome to all future readers, and please do not hesitate to comment.

[i] http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/apple/apple-q1-2016-financial-results-how-many-iphones-ipads-watch-macs-sold-revenue-results-3581769/

[ii] http://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-surface-hits-1bn-revenue-mission-accomplished/

[iii] http://www.newswire.com/files/58/df/e6804afafe7c97e123d2dc922326.png

[iv] https://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/

[v] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnFJ8cHAlco

Choking for words, she just asked “Why?”

One of my daughters was reading a powerful novel set in WWII, and had followed the protagonist though appalling circumstances; his compassion, warmth and courage made him an immensely likeable character whom she felt she somehow really knew. His sudden brutal, quick and surprising death came as a shock; and Millie was powerfully moved, almost to tears.

Not the most cheering of sentiments, but important ideas emerge, and we owe them due consideration. I have been reflecting on many of our schools Mission statements about leaving the world a better place, and the extent to which this goal can be addressed when our days are largely taken up with a fairly traditional academic curriculum. If we want to educate for peace then should we rip and throw away the regular academic classes? Should we join those who see traditional academic education as prolonging an outdated system that was really set up for the industrial era?

I think you will see where I am going; that I am somewhat skeptical of the need to start again. Not, of course, that we cannot do better – we can, we must, and we are always striving to do so. But in our unswerving dedication to improvement, I sometimes see a tendency to take for granted the goods that we already have. And having students clearly moved, emotionally connected to far away situations and people – who are very different to them – has to be one of these goods; and a small but powerful step towards educating for peace.

So I am seeing the value in traditional literature, though that runs contrary to some Departments of Education around the world which seem only interested in more obvious and quantifiable returns on investment. Not that there is not a place for the quantifiable – I also believe that maths and science can help us understand possibilities and probabilities in the widest arena of human affairs; and that history, psychology, politics and so on should help an engaged citizenry weigh up the costs and benefits of war. But short of experiencing war itself, perhaps the arts of literature and drama are the closest we can ever get to understanding what those costs truly are. I can attest to the profound effect it had on my daughter.

That seems to be a defence of an intelligently designed, passionately delivered, broad and balanced traditional academic curriculum, with a central place for the Arts. Academics are not everything, for sure, but properly done, they contribute as much to the holistic and emotional growth of students as anything else.

Measurement in the Change Process

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

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Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, brokering and solutions company. They did an extensive study on change management. In the study they state immediately and without hesitation, “Measurement is among the biggest drivers of overall change success, and it cannot start midway through the initiative”.

Telling someone, “Hey! Great idea. Measure it!”, is not going to work either. Stakeholders in any initiative need a plan with third-party indicators. Oversight requires those metrics to not be solely dictated by people directly working on a project or process. Because many activities are difficult to reduce to a number, observable criteria and anecdotal evidence need to be considered.

Measurement in Technology Driven Initiatives and Processes

Here is a common scenario. A new laptop is requested by a Department Head. The laptop is delivered by the IT department, and all paperwork formalities are completed. The laptop starts up, makes a little beep, and a nice picture appears on the screen. The person delivering the laptop would probably conclude they were successful. They might even give themselves a silent high-five and fist bump.

The fact is, the laptop is still useless. The end user needs to go through many steps in order to apply this new piece of technology to their work. Stating something works, because there has been no sign of error, is a common problem with technology implementation. Those doing the implementation are measuring their success based-on criteria that suits their scope of work.

In order to avoid any type of tunnel vision with regards to measurement, school leadership need to be certain all plans outline what success will look like, and how it can and will be reported. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to find an example from a similar project. Normally, this requires networking with other schools or organizations, but it is well worth the effort. Merely describing success with a list of features is less productive than demonstrating success with a set of functions.

Beware of Examples and Case Studies from Vendors

Many technology initiatives require new or upgraded products or services. Vendors normally include best case scenario examples and case studies. These case studies of successful implementation form the foundation that vendors use to create metrics of success.

Vendors are motivated by their sales and margins. Most of the examples and case studies will not fit into the actual plan most organizations have created. The true details and complications faced by other clients are usually left out or simply not known. The triumph of the implementation is within these hidden organizational specific criteria, problems, and solutions.

I was once contacted by a company and asked to write a case study about an implementation that my team and I had completed very successfully. I was excited, because this meant we had done an excellent job, we were the example. I spent two days putting all the details together. When the case study was finally published, it contained about 25% of the details, and left out what I considered to be core information other schools would need to follow in our footsteps.

Vendors work for the benefit of themselves, so their metrics cannot be used to measure the success of any school’s (or school district’s) local project. Schools need to set their own standards and criteria for success.

Measuring Technology Projects

Technology projects can be challenging to measure. Although the implementation phases usually have a checklist, the professional development processes and various data management pieces can become very cumbersome for a quality oversight initiative. I recommend creating some simple metrics before the project or new process is launched.

For example, let’s take the topic of attendance. Imagine for a moment that the school will grow from 200 students to 500 students within a year. When it is at 500 students, attendance taking will be more difficult. The current process is fairly informal, and done via emails sent to the office. Therefore, a new IT system has been approved for attendance.

For an administrative team to track and measure a project like this, they could and should:

  • Evaluate the current system.
  • List the top 5-10 aspects that the team feels are part of successful attendance. For example, timeliness, reporting format, alerting parents, etc.
  • Rate those aspects on a simple scale (1-5, 1-7, etc.) until the group comes to a consensus on the ratings.

Using these simple steps, the new attendance process can be measured against the previous one. The ratings system is independent of the technology implementation checklist.

Measurement does not need to be complicated. It does need to be consistent and deliberate. Although we may strive to measure ourselves with as little bias as possible, only a third-party measurement can protect us from ourselves.