Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cloud, Mobile, Touch

Flickr CC Photo by Etrusia UK
As Tom James, our IT Network Administrator, recently put it, "These are exciting times!".  For anyone involved in educational technology, like Tom and I, yes indeed, 2011 is an exciting time. We stand on the edge of so many changes.  Ours is a school which strives to be cutting edge in ed tech innovation. Since resources are finite but the possibilities seem infinite, it is extremely challenging to draw a road map into the future. So I am using this space to muse upon major areas of change and some of the big questions which attend them:

* The Cloud
It is clear that more and more computing, storing, and sharing is moving to the cloud.  The cloud allows for anytime, anywhere access and facilitates collaboration. When storage and applications are cloud based it is also possible to improve security and achieve savings (maintinaing one's own servers, etc).

But how fast do we make the move and what might we lose in the exchange? For example, if we announced tomorrow that we were going straight to cloud computing, teachers would lose access to several applications which are only available in our on-site system.  It would be demoralizing to these teachers and detrimental to instruction to pull the rug on them.

* Mobility.  Even adults who are inclined to shun technology have been pulled into computing by smart phones.  Many persons work from their phones.  The iPad has also stood computing on its head.  Not only has it created a category of hybrid between the netbook and smart phone, it is a category killer.  97% of all "slate" computing is done through the iPad.

As iPad-like devices gain in functionality, it becomes harder to justify the expense and inconvenience of requiring students to have a laptop.  An iPad's battery easily lasts though a school day.  It turns on and off instantly.  Both of these features are incredibly attractive to classroom teachers annoyed by the daily recurrence of laptops dying or interminably rebooting.  BUT, for a 1:1 school such as ours, going from an elite laptop to an iPad would result in significant loss in capacity to create documents, slides and assorted media. Moreover, in our case we currently use HPs.  As of today they have not even released a comparable product.  Moving to an iPad would be a radical change.  But moving to an iPad wannabe qualifies as early adaptor and potential PR disaster  (No apps, no iTunes, "No thanks", I can now hear my students saying).  But, on the other hand, the whole market and technology could turn on a dime (VHS v. Betamax).  Whose to say that a Droid-like slate won't successfully enter the market and gain a huge share (and requisite apps).

Touch Technology
Recently, Tom shared with me a video demo for Windows 8.  I was stunned by the degree to which Microsoft is betting its future on the touch environment of Droids and iPads. 

One only has to watch a teenager text with her thumbs to get an idea at what kind of gap can grown generationally as kids slide easily into new phones, new games, new tablets. As kids grow up with these popular and ubiquitous devices, will the schools cling to keyboards and mice because the teachers are more comfortable computing that way?  Furthermore, the difference between consumer hardware and "enterprise" machines is far less distinguishable. Do we continue to ban smartphones and closing off our wi-fi systems to the kids' phones, readers and slates? Or do we embrace them with all the confusion attendant

*Machine Refreshes
Tom tells me that the given cycle for a new model of device is now down to about 10 months.  He also predicts persuasively that many of the major players in technology won't even be around in a few years.

In my mind this issue relates directly to the others.  How can I ask the school and our parents to invest in hardware that may become virtually obsolete in the time it takes a student to move through a four year school. Yet, without uniformity of some kind for every student, how can the teachers take advantage of some of the exciting possibilities of this brave new world.

Tom and the rest of our team have a lot to chew on.  The stakes make me more than a little anxious, but he's right-- This certainly is an exciting time. 


Bobsophist said...

The concern over potential early obsolescence didn't seem to enter into the decision to adopt the HP's. Those HPs and the required software were out of date as soon as the students plugged them in. The argument that something will be out of date if we adopt too soon is specious at best. How many people have six monthed themselves out of "Modern Technology" ? I suspect the real reason that iPads would not be adopted at MHS is that it would force the administration to defend it's initial over priced and ill thought out selection to those who have had and have the HPs

Ann Lusch said...

I guess I should be saving all those links I delete (thinking they do not apply to me) about 101 ways to utilize iPads in the classroom. Just in case.

I think the staff can adapt to new things, even if it's not always easy. That wouldn't be a reason not to change. (And maybe the staff doesn't have to have the same device that the students do, anyway.) Nor would the history of what we have used up until now. Parents would understand that technology changes. The iPad did not exist when we started, for one thing. What's the big deal about saying, okay, now we like this better?

Losing apps used in the classroom might be difficult, but perhaps not an insurmountable obstacle. I'm not sure which you mean, though. Is Moodle on our server? It would be huge for me to lose Moodle.

I would LOVE a device that would keep on truckin' through 7th hour.

But here's the argument mentioned above that I don't see how we can get around: "significant loss in capacity to create documents, slides and assorted media," Isn't teaching our students to not just consume but to CREATE exactly what we are trying to do? Is iPad really the best tool for the job?

Detroit Sports Dork said...

I agree that concern over "early obsolescence" can't be allowed to paralyze choice or block change. But it seems more likely than ever than any selection of device will seem creaky and limited in four years. I am eager to explore a more adaptable approach, but have not found 1:1 secondary models for that. Look around the SE Detroit area and you'll see that 1:1 itself is pretty rare.

We will be continually reviewing the program to find the most cost-effective cutting edge instruction for our kids. I'm an iPad enthusiast, but I have to confess I still use a laptop for many functions such as writing this blog or creating a slide & movie presentation for ISTE. It would be nice to set up a system where the school could move with agility from laptops to slates as the apps for those devices allow for the creation rich multimedia products. I welcome all suggestions of how to move into the future, especially from folks who closely follow the rapidly evolving techie scene (Like you Bobsophist!).

Detroit Sports Dork said...

My previous comment was a response to Bobsophist. Ann, I value (and agree with your comments). First, Moodle is not up for grabs at this point (Besides, it's free). In fact we are investigating the possibility of hosting it off site for better security. One thing I feel VERY strongly about is not springing surprises on staff. If we are going to move away from software they've used to develop instruction, I would hope to a) include them in the decision b) give them a fair head's up (e.g., "in six months we will be discontinuing software X because . . . .).

Bobsophist said...

And how many 1:1 models were there when MHS adopted the HP's in the first place?

Ann Lusch said...

Larry, good idea about both involving the staff in decisions and not moving too quickly!

Detroit Sports Dork said...

Well , Ideally we could "quickly" to develop a plan, but implentation could be rolled out in stages like the master plan for the building and adjusted as the tech evolves.

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