Category Archives: Cloud computing

Pedagogically driven…?

Over the past few  years I’ve frequently heard the comments; “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the pedagogy”, or in relation to the advent of ultrafast broadband; “we’ve got to drive it from the teaching and learning.” These are well intended sentiments, but why is it that the technology still dominates much of the discussion, and so often becomes the starting point by default? And just what do we mean by letting the teaching and learning lead? How would you explain that to someone outside of education – or, for that matter, someone inside?

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now and this week I had a chance to share some of my thinking with Russell Burt, principal at Point England School. I’ve captured our jottings at the whiteboard in the diagram above (click on it for a larger version). Key points are:

The fundamental activity of students as learners is shown in the ‘process’ line, consisting of:

  • Learn – This is the part of the learning process where learners are exposed to intentional teaching, access to content, the development of pre-requsite knowledge and skills etc.
  • Create – this is where learners work with, manipulate and re-present the information they have gathered in the ‘learn’ scenario. This may be done independently or collaboratively, and may involve a range of tools and environments.
  • Share – where learners communicate with others what they have learned, being especially aware of the audience. May involve a celebration of some sort, and feedback where appropriate.

These three things are underpinned/supported by a comprehensive assessment process – both for and of learning. The assessment band is deliberately shown this way to emphasise the fact that it isn’t driving the learning, but is an integral part of the learning process.

Below that are the three principles that we think are key to developing an effective, future-focused approach to teaching and learning:

  • Ubiquity – focusing on learning that happens anywhere, any time, any pace and through/with any device. Learning is no longer confined to the ‘box’ of the classroom, the ‘fences’ of the school yard, or the period between 9-3 in a school day. It also reflects the underpinnings of life-long learning.
  • Personalisation – learners in charge of their learning, with the ability to make meaningful choices about all aspects of what and how they learn. Also recognises the imperative on teachers, as learning designers, to recognise that all learners learn differently and in ways personal to them. 
  • Collaboration – recognising that the ability to work with others is an essential skill in a future-focused world. Acknowledges the theoretical underpinnings of social constructivism and connectivism, and the need to recognised and work with each other’s strengths (and weaknesses).

The layers below this illustrate the way the services and infrastructure supports our intended learning outcomes/teaching approaches. Working from the top, it becomes relatively straight forward to see how the teaching and learning may drive the technology decisions. Take this example for instance:

Beginning in the ‘learn’ area, a school decides it is important that students have unfettered access to a broad range of online resources and materials to support learning in the classroom as it is required (just in time).

Acknowledging the ‘ubiquity principle, the decision is that access should be available anywhere on the school premises, but shouldn’t be confined to the school day and school premises.

This leads then to decisions about mobile, internet capable devices, school-wide wireless, cloud-based content servers and filtering solutions that aren’t unnecessarily restrictive.

Although this isn’t a particularly detailed explanation, and there are a range of other factors and possible scenarios that could be developed to meet the original ‘learning’ need, you’ll get the point. The important thing is that the model is an attempt to initiate some dialogue about how we articulate our teaching and learning needs, and how they can then be appropriately supported by the technologies available to us.

BYOC

An article in this morning’s Herald titled “Hate your work? Then bring your own PC” comes as a timely reminder of one of the big issues schools will face in the coming few years – the provision an support of computer equipment for staff and students.

I see this as the convergence of two key drivers:

  1. the increasing cost to schools of providing students with access to up-to-date computers, and of maintaining these and the software installed on them; and
  2. the increasing personalisation of all things in education, including the choice of where, when and with what students (and teachers) can work and access their learning.

The Herald refers to the solution as BYOC (bring your own computer), and there are already plenty of examples of where this is happening, with a range of responses including;

  • schools moving to providing robust wireless systems and inviting students to bring their own devices to connect to the network,
  • schools providing assistance to families to purchase their own laptops or netbooks,
  • schools requiring all students to purchase a laptop a a requirement of enrolment.

We mustn’t forget also the fact that in NZ for a number of years now we have had the laptops for principals and teachers programmes that have indisputably had a significant impact on the work patterns of teachers and played a significant role in building ICT capability across the sector.

The Herald article notes;

Computers are superseded by better models every month, but regularly upgrading a building’s worth of technology is unrealistic. The irony of this situation is that everyone in the IT department – and probably the frustrated staff they’re trying to help – will often have far more powerful computers sitting at home doing nothing.

This is exactly the problem schools face – how to keep up. Well, one way would appear to be to promote the use of personally owned devices in (and out) of schools.

In Christchurch following the Feb 22 earthquake there has been significant talk about business continuity – and how to achieve this. For those companies (like the one I work for) where employees have their own device and are site-independent in the way they can therefore work, this was certainly a key factor in our business continuity.

I’d like to promote the idea of ‘learning continuity’ as something we need to strive for in education – learning that happens beyond the hours that school is open – and the BYOC campaign would certainly be a good place to start.

When disaster strikes

A number of years ago I had the misfortune to be caught in a heavy rain shower on my way to work. Not only did the water penetrate the raincoat I was wearing, leaving me totally saturated, but it also ‘drowned’ my laptop, leading to problems occurring when I tried to start it up, resulting in the hard drive being completely unusable and nothing able to be retrieved from it. Fortunately I worked in an organisation that allowed me to send daily backups of my laptop across the network to be stored on the server. Within a few hours I was again working on a borrowed laptop, with all my files installed, minus just a few things I’d been working on the night before.

That was really my first ‘close shave’ that caused me to appreciate the absolute importance of ‘backups’! Failure to do that would have been a disaster for me!

I’m imagining that many schools and teachers in Christchurch are thinking about this after the recent earthquake. Many have either had their laptops or servers  destroyed, or have lost access to them as they lie inside condemned buildings. For them the issue of ‘disaster recovery‘ takes on new meaning – more than simply a case of whether things have been ‘backed up’ – but also a case of where those back-ups are located.

The principal from one school I spoke to is distraught because while his school had invested wisely in a complete back-up server and ensured that regular and comprehensive back-ups were made on a regular basis, the back-up server was located alongside the active server in the school, and together they lie in a condemned building in the city. Their data is undoubtedly safe, but inaccessible.

A teacher from a second school was telling me how ‘lucky’ they were that as the earthquake was happening their technician had the presence of mind to grab the back-up tapes from the office as he fled the building, and now the staff and students are able to continue operating on borrowed computers in borrowed premises accessing their files installed on a borrowed server. Certainly a case of good luck rather than good planning – they are the fortunate ones. Their tapes could so easily have been left inaccessible inside a condemned building also, leaving them in the same situation as the first school.

One of the essential elements of a good disaster recover plan is to ensure that you have off-site back-up and storage. This doesn’t simply mean that you take the back-up tapes home at the end of each day. Effective off-site back-up involves regular ‘pushing’ of data to the off-site server – this should occur at least once daily, typically overnight, but with digital data being mission critical for schools,  more frequent back-up or “continuous data protection” should be seriously considered.

This is one of the significant benefits of being connected to Ultrafast Broadband, and as schools look forward to how they can leverage their investment in UFB, the lessons learned from Christchurch should raise the concerns for a good disaster recovery plan to somewhere near the top of the list.

Clouds and silver linings

Concerns about business continuity are top of mind for many business owners in Christchurch at the moment. With the CBD locked down, and the prospect of gaining entry to access essential files and servers unlikely to happen for possibly weeks yet, the concept of a workplace as being a place bound by four walls and containing all the essential services is being reviewed.

In recent years I have been a strong advocate of schools looking to cloud computing as a solution for many of the issues they face in terms of data storage, backup, version control, support etc. etc.

Putting our words into action, we (at CORE) undertook the process of shifting all of our servers off-site nearly two years ago now, and have since then moved to shifting most of what we do into ‘the cloud’.

The most recent move has been to adopt a cloud-based accounting package, using Xero, which has not only provided much better levels of service and support, but has also reduced our costs considerably – from several thousand dollars a year, to an ongoing fee of $25/month plus an annual support fee.

At a time where many other businesses, and schools for that matter, were investing heavily in site-based servers, backup and infrastructure, we felt assured that the cloud platform was the way to go. Security of data, and concerns about privacy and access are the main reasons given for not choosing the cloud, and while there is certainly reason to consider these issues, we believed the pros outweighed the cons.

How that decision has paid off for us in the wake of the current earthquake crisis. While many others are waiting to get back into offices and buildings to retrieve servers and valuable back-up disks etc., our IT manager had us fully functioning from remote locations in less than 24 hours after the event.

For schools (and tertiary institutions) the importance of hosting servers and mission critical services remotely will take on a new meaning I’m sure. Several schools I am aware of, as well as one of the local tertiary providers, are concerned that their LMS system, for example, is no longer accessible because it is hosted on a server within the premises which is now cut off because of the quake. As a result, the option of students being able to continue accessing their learning via the LMS isn’t an option – while a remotely hosted application would have been able to continue to be accessed.

Perhaps the Horizon Report prediction of 2009 will prove to be correct, that cloud computing and private clouds may fit within the 2-3 years to adoption time-frame after all?

Google and the cloud

Further to my recent post about the 100 ways Google can make you a better educator, Google themselves have published a comprehensive overview of support, tips and tutorials for using the Google apps in education all neatly presented on a LiveBinder. This will be an essential bookmarked site I’d imagine for any teacher who is keen on exploring ways of using these apps with educative purpose. There’s a host of tutorials in the form of video and text, some of which are also graded for beginner, intermediate and advanced. This binder brings together all of the things that you’d otherwise have to delve off into a number of areas to find – and is yet another great example of how LiveBinder can be used so effectively.

While on the topic of using Google in education, yesterday’s post on the RWW titled
When K-12 Moves to the Cloud highlights a point I made in the earlier post – that the use of cloud-based applications such as Google Apps is about more than simply saving money. In their article, the RWW team summarise what is happening in various places in the US, highlighting the fact that in addition to the obvious cost-saving and technical support benefits that come from this move, there is also an emerging cultural shift in schools.

Signs of this culture shift highlighted in the article include:

  • increased collaboration between teachers and schools
  • participation in personal learning networks for professional growth and development
  • resource sharing, including the collaborative development of open-source text books

As Howard Chan, the Director of Technology for K-12 public charter schools in San Diego, California, is quoted, “having a centralized depository for disseminating information has changed the culture of our school. Now there is a platform for distributing information in real time and archiving information for future use.”

100 Ways Google Can Make You a Better Educator

Seems that Google’s suite of tools and applications are being adopted by educators in ever increasing numbers – two reasons spring immediately to mind; they are cloud-based (which means they can be accessed from anywhere, at any time etc.) and they are free! Means that for students wanting to follow up on their work at home cost and access are not an issue.

So it’s with interest that I browsed the list of 100 Ways Google Can Make You a Better Educator, compiled by the keepers of the Online Education Database. The list is neatly broken down under headings, classifying the various ways in which Google apps can be used, including communications, news, maps, images and tools for organising. For those who are looking for some good ideas for the classroom this list will keep you going for a while 🙂

A “G-Cloud” for England?

News just out here in the UK is of plans to develop project to build a shared cloud infrastructure for all government departments – announced yesterday at the Future of the Data Centre conference happening over here at the moment.

According to the release the UK government’s Cabinet Office plans to create a so-called ‘skunk works’ team to develop better ways to manage IT projects.
The proposal was revealed in a strategy document published this week, entitled the ‘Structural Reform Plan’’, which proposes a number of IT-related reforms.

This will be an interesting development to watch – thanks Malcolm for the alert 🙂

Mighty Meeting

I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to London, and came across this great little app while surfing.

Called MightMeeting, it allows you to manage a library of PowerPoint presentations directly from your smartphone or tablet. You can share them via email, blog, Twitter, or Facebook. You can start or join web meetings directly from your laptop, iPhone, iPad, or an Android phone.

I’ve managed to create an account and upload a trial presentation. Was very intuitive and user friendly. The process of setting up a meeting is also straight forward – simply select the file you want, then invite the people you want to join you. Once the meeting is started you have control over the progression of the slides etc, and there is a convenient chat facility accessible via one of the tabs on screen. It’s in Beta form at the moment and free to try, but if it works the way it says it does this could be a very useful app for me!

Creating a regional school’s network

I had the opportunity today to visit the Warwickshire Education Services in Warwick, and their ICT Development Services team who provide a “one-stop-shop” for  ICT services for schools in the Warwickshire Local Authority. The authority provides services to 249 schools (36 Secondary and 213 primary, nursery and specialist schools) – a total of around 80,000 learners and 15,500 teaching and support staff.

I was generously hosted by Chris Page who has worked as Technical Development Manager there for more than 15 years, during which time the authority has seen a lot of development in terms of the ICT systems and infrastructure linking all the schools. IT was a wonderfully insightful meeting and tour of their facility, providing me with some useful insights that I can take back with me to New Zealand where we’re in the process of building regional school networks based on fibre connectivity.

Key features of what I saw include:

  • All schools in the authority are using a common student management system – SIMS by Capita
  • There is also a common portal service (Sharepoint-based) and VLE (RM provided) for all schools
  • All students in Warwickshire schools are entered into a common identity database on entry to school – making the issue of IAM straightforward to deal with, and enabling the movement of students between and among schools etc. to be more easily managed.
  • Use of SWIVEL to enable two factor authentication for access – assures greater security without creating more layers of interface for the user.
  • Funding for support for ICT in schools is on a user-pays basis by the Ed Services group, and is provided on a subscription system.
  • They have adopted the SIF protocol for data interoperability between systems.
  • IAM process and SIF usage also enables common access to a variety of services, including the learning portal, the VLE, SIMS, cashless catering, absences and reporting etc.
  • Strong emphasis on user support and professional development in all of the planning and visioning of programmes
  • Implemented solutions to address the Parental Engagement Agenda, using an application called Insight by Tasq, that draws data from the MIS package and presents it in a form for parents to access – including an iPhone app that is in development.
  • Strong emphasis on cyber safety and monitoring of online usage – including the use of monitoring and filtering software from Forensic Software that is installed and managed by the ICT Services group, and also WebSense, used to monitor much of the admin application usage.
  • Well developed disaster recovery procedures, with data centres located in four parts of the region, each connected by fibre with regular backups scheduled etc. The software used allows for the virtual backup of all machines (including teacher and student laptops) in all schools on the network.
  • All computers in schools are managed using an imaging process, allowing for remote updating etc through a virtualised environment, using Microsoft’s VMware and MS HyperV server technology. In this way the ICT services group are able to set up a new school installation in a morning.

I’m sure I’ll surface more thoughts once I’ve reviewed my notes more – but the key thing I came away with was a confirmed understanding of the importance of a comprehensive approach to IAM at the centre of a shared services infrastructure, and the importance of a common data interoperability framework to enable discrete systems to talk to each-other (or at least share data!)

There are a number of examples and case studies of the work they do available online, including:

CORE’s ten trends for 2010

Today I presented CORE’s ten trends for 2010 to an audience of around 400 delegates at the Learning@School conference in Rotorua. The ten trends are a collection of themes and issues that have been identified by CORE staff as trends in education that we imagine will impact on the work of teachers and leaders in early childhood centres, schools, and tertiary institutions in NZ in the coming year. While our focus is on the bigger picture of education, there is a focus on trends associated with the use of ICTs in education, reflecting the fact that we are living in a world where nearly everything we do has a digital dimension.