Cloud Computing, Virtualization, and K-12 Education

Thomas Bittman of the Gartner Group has written a thought provoking blog post on Cloud Computing and K-12 education. Bittman begins his piece by letting us know that he is serving as a volunteer on the technology planning committee of his home school district. His first impression?

The web, social software and cloud computing will definitely have an impact on enterprise IT – but the impact on our educational system will be astounding, and many in our educational system don’t see it coming.

His observations about our K-12 technology planning processes are astute and ring true.

Technology plans are usually three year plans, including a vision and strategic action items. The reason these were important in the past was to feed into the capital investment plan for a district – because technology usually meant buying a lot of hardware and software. It was usually sufficient to use the vision and perhaps incrementally change the action plans from three years ago. In fact, I’ve read a number of “current” technology plans (including the one for my state) that could have been written in 1990. They simply don’t get the significance of the web and cloud computing on technology purchases, technology use, and how and what we teach.

He clearly sees that Cloud Computing and Virtualization have real benefits that need to be accounted for in our technology plans.

Rather than spend a major portion of our scarce technology dollars for the replacement of obsolete computers, so that we can run the latest software; why not run software from “the cloud” or from “virtualized servers”, and in the process become “device independent? Device independence allows us to choose the right device for the job whether it be a full desktop client, a thin client, a mini-notebook, laptop or iPod.

Rather than spend large percentages of our technology budgets on the technical support staff needed to maintain our traditional ‘distributed’, on-site, individual hard drive oriented networks, why not simplify our networks by “farming out” as many of our onsite resources as possible to “the cloud” or to “application servers”?

Do all applications have to run on individual hard drives? Do all applications have to be hosted on site?

Yes, there are some applications (ie. high-end video editing) that make sense to run locally; but the vast majority of educational and productivity software can be run from “the cloud” or via “application servers”.

Bittman says,

The need for hardware and software isn’t being eliminated, but it is shifting from being on-premises to being in the cloud. All that is needed is a cheap access device and a web browser, broadband in the schools, perhaps wireless hotspots. While equitable access to technology is clearly important, more and more students already have some kind of access device – a laptop, an Ipod. The district needs to fill the gaps, not replace existing access devices.

Bittman goes on to look at the social web and collaboration in K-12 education and provides some thought provoking vision statements in those areas.

Take a look at your existing technology plan. Could it have been written in the ‘90’s? If so, step back and consider a brand new, fresh start, blank sheet, big vision, technology plan.



10 thoughts on “Cloud Computing, Virtualization, and K-12 Education

  1. Greeting Thomas,

    I read one of your other articles about cloud computing and virtualization. Great read!
    I am interviewing with Vizioncore this week and would like to talk with you briefly about them. Please let me know your availability for a call on Monday 1/12 or Tuesday?

    Best regards,

    David Leinberry

  2. Might I suggest that the full range of cloud services (IaaS, SaaS, PaaS) be considered.

    The districts I’ve visited would like to move the server farm to a big cloud in the sky (IaaS, SaaS), certainly. This can be more economical generally, however, does this simplify or complicate things?

    What I’m suggesting is the consideration of a SaaS platform (a PaaS) be considered. Merely moving the problem somewhere remote doesn’t change the application value, which is a problem that needs solving beyond the mere bottom line.

    My recommendation if you are considering moving to cloud technology is to pick a _platform_ that allows you to deliver the next generation of capabilities faster and more affordably. Myself and a handful of others are working hard to bring this to reality and we’d enjoy hearing from you.

  3. Pete, great post on cloud computing. To date I’ve just been thinking about how easy cloud computing makes the sharing of documents which facilitates efficient collaboration. I never even considered how it could save money and human resources. Wes Fryer recently posted on Cloud-Based computing I think you’ll find it very interesting. Also please Vote on the Most Effective Ed Tech Tools from the Past 30 Years. I’m thinking of setting a up a poll looking at the next 10years of education tech, Cloud-based computing would have to be a category don’t you think?

  4. Joe,
    Thanks for the kind words and the links to Wes Fryer’s post.

    I believe Cloud Computing and Virtualization are keys to the future of ed tech. It is through these two tech approaches that we will begin to make progress towards a ubiquitous computing environment.

    If we stay with the present ‘distributed’ hard drive based approach, all we’ll see is more of the same.

    Kids need technology in their hands. (not the back of the room, not the lab, not watching someone working on a smartboard, or an elmo) In their hands….


  5. Pete –

    Great post. One that I can’t agree with more.

    I’ll add the following thoughts:

    1) Gartner also said (from a presentation at NECC 2008)

    Software for Rent: “‘By 2012, more than 50% of of all small local governments and school ditricts that deploy an ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system will do so by acquiring software as a service or through access to a shared-service center owned by someone else (0.8 probability)”

    2) “Schools need help with tech support” eSchoolNews/SchoolDude survey –

    The most recent survey indicates that we are approaching the point where half of all school districts in the USA have implemented some form of Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud computing.

    3) As our younger faculty and staff now move through a point where 50% – 75% of them now use “cloud computing” services in their own personal life (email such as Hotmail, Gmail, sharing photos online, Google docs), they come in with an increased expectation incluing the expecation of their computing environment at work and the internal IT response to their requests.

    In summary, they say, “If I can track my pizza online at home, why can’t I track my trouble ticket or my work order request at work?” And they make certain assumptions when this expectation can’t be met.

    and, we’ve read with great interest President Obama’s new CTO’s remarks about the model:

    Take care,

    Lee Prevost

    PS/Disclaimer – I do have a commercial interest in the success of cloud computing! I bet my house on it!

  6. Hello,

    My interest in computers landed me a ‘Network Administrator’ position for a small company some years ago – the company couldn’t fund training, wouldn’t budget for software/hardware licensing so I learned quickly the frustrations many school districts’ I.T. Departments now struggle to overcome.

    After leaving the first company I began a company with my now ex, selling software to school districts. Today, I’m starting over, flying solo, with minimum capital. What I do know is that I want to actually help schools improve learning opportunities for students and relieve some of the unecesary burdens imposed on I.T. staff and teachers. I honestly want to help, not just ‘make a buck’

    I believe developing a cost effective offerring that combines remote helpdesk services and cloud computing, (and the use of less expensive terminals as a means of access), and giving districts options to pick and choose the level of control they want, would be the best solution.

    I am curious where a small business, especially in start-up and with minimum capital will fit in, which partners are likely to succeed, benefit school districts the most – and, how is it possible to partner with them to help bring these solutions to schools?

    Is anyone willing to offer their two-cents? Should I just leave it to the ‘big guys’ and write off as a dream?

    Thank you.

  7. Lisa,
    I have committed myself to changing the paradigm in classrooms from listening to doing. I want empowered students and teachers. The way we deploy technology today is expensive, requires tremendous tech support, and reinforces the old teaching paradigm of many watching one.

    We need cost effective ways for schools to move closer to ubiquitous computing and 1 to 1 computing.

    Since so few leaders or school districts are open to some of the new possibilities (cloud, client virtualization, netbooks, thin clients, NComputers, and home access) I’ve begun putting ‘proof of concepts’ in place.

    I have gathered a wonderful set of partners who supply the schools with hardware, servers, software, installation, and training. I work with the group to define the project, coordinate it, and at the end I write an evaluation that summarizes our findings.

    Blogging about this new paradigm is nice, planting the seeds in districts has been really fulfilling; but seeing classrooms transformed with empowered students and teachers is the best reward.

    I am constantly looking for new schools who would be willing to commit to a project of this sort.

    Don’t wait for the ‘big guys’; stir the pot.


  8. RE: VMware and SMS Wireless Test Administration for K12 Schools. M4E SMS Virtual Appliance is now released.

    M4E is a Linux virtual appliance. This SMS Wireless Test Administration (WTA) server is designed for K12 teachers, parents and students and is easy to install. It has world class software components and also supports high speed SMS IP connections to any wireless carrier SMSC data center.

    The M4E SMS service is started using GSM modems and SIM cards from any GSM cell phone to join the cell network and send – receive student SMS multiple choice question messages from cell towers in your region.

    M4E can use all existing cell phones students have today. Teachers have their own log-in accounts to create and schedule content. Full results reporting is included along with running student histories. Teacher override features and cellular report card forwarding to parent cell numbers in real time as options. These are the links with all of the detailed features and information.

  9. Hey, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your website in Firefox, it looks fine but
    when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic

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