Last month I briefly wrote about a number of trends to keep an eye on the educational technology. Cloud computing is a specific type of technological development that’s fairly mainstream despite a lack of widespread knowledge of what the term “cloud computing” actually means.
What Is It?
By referring to a “cloud” the idea, in essence, is referring to an entity existing seemingly in thin air, very much the way the Internet is perceived to operate. In fact, Judith Hurwitz, Robin Bloor, Marcia Kaufman, and Fern Halper of Dummies.com refer to the cloud computing as the “the next stage in the Internet’s evolution”. Noting that it makes possible everything “from computing power to computing infrastructure, applications, business processes to personal collaboration” the most critical element of which is its ability to “be delivered to you as a service wherever and whenever you need” through the Internet.
Examples of cloud computing today are widespread. Take the way email and data storage currently operate, for example. Gmail users are simultaneously able to check their email as well as upload their files through “Google Docs”, allowing them to retrieve these files for future use. Cloud computing have made both services accessible to customers anywhere in the world with Internet access, rendering floppy discs useless virtually overnight. In this way “cloud computing can be considered a set of technologies that provide services that can be delivered over the Internet in real time” the nature of cloud computing being more of a service -capable of an array of functions- than a single technology in and of itself. This however, is what makes cloud computing so exciting- there is something for everyone to benefit from.
Learning Through Clouds
Lynn McNally, member of the board of directors for K-12 technology leadership body Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) notes in an interview with Lawrence Cruz that “there will be two subsets of cloud computing: software-as-a-service (SaaS), which is the real-time delivery of cloud-based software; and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which provides free resources such as storage, email and collaboration tools”. What this helps to foster is more than just a “peer-to-peer” interaction but “many-to-many” capability- transcending limits of what the traditional four-walled classroom has thus far been able to offer.
Lets take the (M)odular (O)bject-(O)riented (D)ynamic (L)earning (E)nvironment or Moodle as an example of how cloud computing can serve educational ends. Also known as a Course or Learning Management System, as well as a Virtual Learning Environment, Moodle is essentially a platform with features allowing instructors and students to:
- Submit and assign coursework
- Participate in forums that facilitate “class” discussion
- Provide necessary files and/or assignments for download
- Grade homework/tests/quizzes
- Access course calendars, announcements & news
- Administer quizzes and tests.
Through the capacities afforded by Moodle, it’s clearer to see how cloud computing has impacted the classroom, transforming any location accessible with an Internet connection, into a bonafide place of learning. Moodle not only streamlines the responsibilities of the teacher, it expands their reach, capacity and the level of integration among members of the class. Instant messages allow students to communicate with each other as well as the instructor, making the Moodle interface a direct educational interface.
Emerging as a cost efficient alternative to large-scale information technology (IT) departments in institutions of higher learning, cloud computing is more than just a way to save valuable time and money. It presents a real opportunity to expand the depth and reach of education in places where distance once limited us. It signals a change from the “old school” educational experience, whereby students learnt through lecture, ushering in a time where learning is achieved through engagement. In a critical way, cloud computing also democratizes access to educational materials through open source software and/or simply the Internet itself, eliminating the necessity of cumbersome and expensive textbooks.
Simply said, learning in the future will no longer happen just in the classroom- it’s already happening in the cloud.