After reading the article "Computing in the Clouds" by Doug Johnson, downloaded from the www.iste.org website, I am excited about the potential of using so-called "cloud computing" in the classroom. The article starts off with an intriguing recap of how the Johnson wrote the article without the use of word processing software loaded onto his computer, used several computers to write without using a flashdrive to save the file, saved his draft in a place with he could access it without using his laptop or an external hard drive and performed all of this at no cost.
The setup is tantalizing and the implications for the use of this type of technology for schools is clear: the flexibility of cloud computing allows students of all socioeconomic groups to participate. The secret to this technology is that the computing ability exists on either a network or on the internet. "This offers several real advantages," Johnson says. "Because the files and programs are all stored elsewhere, your local computer doesn't have to hold much on its hard drive, so it can run faster or be smaller. And you can work on any project, anywhere, no matter what computer you're using." (Johnson 1) This means that students using cloud computing can access a project at school, at home or virtually anywhere in the world without worrying about transporting the files or keeping track of the latest version of a document or software as long as they have internet access.
This technology also allows for students or educators to share files and easily collaborate with others. Not only is the technology free to use but it also allows the user to perform these tasks using less powerful computing devices. This means that students are not required to have the latest, fastest and most advanced computers to be able to use the technology. Johnson also says this can help a school district dramatically lower its computing costs by using the cloud platform. Johnson also envisions a time in the near future when schools ask their students' parents to buy an inexpensive netbook as part of the school supplies list. "As a parent," Johnson says," I was asked to purchase a $100 graphing calculator when my son was in high school six years ago. How big a stretch is it to ask parents to provide a $250 netbook computer today?" (Johnson 2)
Johnson also details the relative ease of his transition into the world of cloud computing. Interestingly, he outlines how the shift from Microsoft Office to Google Docs for his day-to-day productivity has been "surprisingly easy." Johnson admits that Google Docs lacks many of the fine tuning features of other programs but for 95% of his work and for storing files, the platform works very well. Additionally, everything he creates using Google Docs is compatible with Microsoft Office.
However, Johnson also points out the drawbacks to using the cloud. Most glaringly, what happens when there is no internet access? There is some comfort in the fact that one can use Gmail and Google Docs offline and the documents will be synced when internet access is reestablished. There is also a chance that this technology will not remain free for long. The current revenue model draws profits from advertisements and the sale of upgraded features and storage capacity. How long this model will last is unpredictable. Lastly, the security of files kept on the cloud is questionable. Johnson recommends back up all of the data on a local server or computer.
Overall, cloud computing does not serve every computing need but the ease of use, flexibility and open access could prove to be a valuable commodity for future classroom use. In short, this technology levels the playing field for students of all backgrounds.