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Monday, December 13, 2010

Head In The Clouds

No, I'm not referring to the feeling of watching both the Modified and Varsity Boys basketball teams secure their first victories of the season at home tonight. That's a great step in the right direction as the teams gained confidence and experienced the degree of teamwork they'll need to continue to meet with success in the season. However, I'm speaking about the information on "cloud computing" I received from a technology conference I attended last Friday in Albany.

Technology Awareness Day is an annual event sponsored by the Capital Region Board of Cooperative services (BOCES) that features new developments in technology and subsequent innovations in instructional practices. A number of school districts presented examples of employing technology as an instructional tool to enhance learning. There were vendors touting data management systems, virtual classrooms, real-time assessment tools, interactive white boards, sound reinforcement systems, video conference programs, enabled teacher workstations, and much more. It's a far cry from the film strip projectors, mimeograph machines and overhead transparency projectors of my youth. It's also an incredible advancement from the first personal computers (Commodore Vic 20 computers with 128K of memory!!!) that I was extremely anxious to unpack in 1982 when the school where I worked as principal was the first in the area to introduce these miraculous pieces of technology. One can only wonder what's around the corner regarding future technological breakthroughs.

The keynote speaker closed the conference by delivering an informative presentation on the growing concept of "cloud computing." Rather than attempt to articulate an explanation in my own words, I'll provide the following quote from Wikipedia: (I've emphasized in boldface what I feel are the key elements)

"Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid. Cloud computing is a natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization, service oriented architecture and utility computing. Details are abstracted from consumers, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure "in the cloud" that supports them. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for instructional technology services based on the Internet, and it typically involves over-the-Internet provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources. It is a byproduct and consequence of the ease-of-access to remote computing sites provided by the Internet. This frequently takes the form of web-based tools or applications that users can access and use through a web browser as if it were a program installed locally on their own computer. Typical cloud computing providers deliver common business applications online that are accessed from another Web service or software like a web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers."

This concept offers considerable promise to individual school districts and collections of school districts that could band together to develop a public/private cloud whereby the schools reduce reliance on infrastructure needs and share services and web based applications (public) but restrict access to the specific group of schools (private) to maintain security. It's an area that warrants further examination as an opportunity to explore efficient cost saving practices and the prospect of expanded services managed among schools.

We have introduced an on-line credit recovery system called NovaNet to allow learners the opportunity to work at their own pace in a computer controlled path of scope and sequence in specific curricula. The learners are closely monitored with frequent assessments designed to ensure that they master a skill prior to advancing further. Task specific feedback accompanies the learner throughout their experience. We are also investigating virtual classroom programs intended to expand learning opportunities beyond our present ability, given our budgetary limitations and staffing patterns. These programs are designed to supplement, not supplant, our current instructional organization.

As I've exclaimed in prior Blog posts, in order to remain a small school but have BIG ideas, we must be creative to increase competitive learning opportunities without further stressing our already strained budget. We can be both efficient and effective. It will require prioritizing needs, commitment, cooperation and ingenuity. It won't be easy, but it must be done if we want our graduates to compete for college admission and the job market.

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