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”.
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.