Tech Tuesday

Finds and Thoughts about Tech Integration

Does Every Cloud Have a Silver Lining?


It’s that time of  year. We are assessing our district technology needs. Out with the ancient equipment and in with the new! Lists have been drafted, and now an overall one is being compiled. The question: what are our priorities as a district? Certain concepts and terminology keep surfacing in our quest: cloud computing, desktop virtualization and thin clients. Being an Apple strong environment, many of us are unsure of what all these mean, and if and how they will impact us. I’ve been doing a little bit of reading during my vacation. This is what I’ve learned, and by no means, am I an expert! This is my (possibly over) simplification of the terms. I’m just trying to make sense of it all by sharing these potential tools. 🙂

Cloud Computing- The term refers to services that are provided to the user by launching a web browser and visiting a specific site/service on the Internet. No special software is required on the computer, and the information is organized and stored on a server. Google’s Gmail, Calendar and Documents are good examples that many of us use.

Desktop Virtualization- This term refers to when a user logs into a computer connected to a remote central server. The log-in allows the user to see and use all of his/her programs, services and files. They are running off the server. The users do not have to be at one location, but are on the same network or able to access the server through the Internet. Also, the desktop of the computer changes from user to user based on what s/he has permission to access. It’s like having the comforts of home no matter what machine you use. A somewhat example that I have seen in our school district is FirstClass, our communication system. While it is a program loaded on machines, it does require the Internet to run. It also gives a user a customized, virtual desktop with access to his/her services, calendars and files that are stored on the FirstClass servers. A user can utilize any machine that has the FirstClass software and have total retrieval of his/her “stuff”. This is very convenient if you work from different locations in a building, district and from home.

Thin Client- the term refers to a device that does not do its own computing. It relies on a server. When a user employs a specific program, the program is not running on the thin client device, but rather a server. Thin clients are considerably less expensive than traditional computers because they do not have the hardware, software or even storage space that is required of a full computer. Low maintenance requirements of thin clients also make them desirable to tech support. A Netbook is an example.

As you can see, the cost effectiveness of being in the cloud is a big sell to school districts. It certainly would be cheaper to outfit everyone with a thin client versus a Mac. However, this bring me to: Is this the right path to go in an educational environment? Especially an elementary one?

I am a big advocate of online, Web 2.0 tools; however, we do use many pieces of software that are computer (not server) based and work seamlessly together, such as iLife (iTunes, GarageBand, iPhoto, iMovie). It seems that by seeking out replacement tools that are server or web based to create similar type projects and outcomes may shift us to having to concentrate more on learning the technology versus the curriculum objective. That is a concern, especially at the elementary level with younger students. How much adult support will be required?

It seems that differentiation, like in the classroom, is key. One size fits all doesn’t make sense there or in meeting our computing needs. We need to ask ourselves: where does cloud computing make sense?

Libraries may be excellent places for thin clients to access online card catalogs and resources. Teachers are being required to complete more and more administrative tasks, such as district benchmark data entry and student grades as well as being connected through email communication systems. Therefore, teachers may be good candidates for thin clients or desktop virtualization. Students certainly can be in the cloud with blogging, but having access to computer labs or laptops that are full systems that are not entirely reliant on the Internet (it does go down on occasion) seems prudent.

The task committee that is working on our technology needs believes that we have to put the educational objective first when making decisions. Therefore, we have a lot of questions about the impact that a whole change over to thin clients and virtualization will have. And yes, we even have started our own Google Doc (in the cloud) to list our concerns to investigate and discuss with each other!

Where are other people’s schools and districts heading?


ms.sanderson’s cloud Bookmarks on Delicious

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One Comment to

“Does Every Cloud Have a Silver Lining?”

  1. February 17th, 2010 at 5:07 pm       ktenkely Says:

    I struggle with this issue in our elementary environment as well. While I really enjoy using aspects of cloud computing, I have a hard time leaving the macs for a thin client environment. In our school I don’t think that this serves our best interests. Ideally, I see our school with Mac mobile labs, a few mac classroom computers in each classroom, and each student outfitted with an iPod Touch or iPad. I think in the ES classroom this combination would be ideal for learning.

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