educationtechnologyinsights

Cloud - A Game Changer for the Education Industry

By Diane Jones, Chief Information and Strategic Officer, Detroit Public Schools

Diane Jones, Chief Information and Strategic Officer, Detroit Public Schools

Advances in IT applications are presenting the education industry with opportunities to leverage the power of IT to create new value through digital instruction. Technologies that enable education movement include cellular and wireless networks, service-oriented architecture, open data apps, smartphone-connected sensors and social networking. So these advancements have benefited cloud computing or the ‘internet of things’ which have become fundamental to the advancement of the educational ecosystem -a solution that is not only financially sound but also good from a content perspective. When school districts around the country are faced with significant declines in educational funding, and the demand for quality education is higher than ever, these tools are real opportunities for administrators and students without the costs normally associated.

Detroit Public Schools (DPS) technology plans look three year out and include action steps that feed the capital investment plan for the District. Technology infrastructure plans have traditionally meant large investments in hardware and software, creating financial challenges, especially in large urban districts that are facing huge deficits and are in need of viable solutions that still meet the needs of students and administrators.

As a result, the cloud provides low-cost or free technology that can fill the gaps in teaching and learning. Tools such as publishing, collaboration, editing, content creation and computing are available. Moreover, students are already taking advantage of these tools at home and the educational industry must ’catch up’ and take advantage of the same advancements. I don’t believe the need for hardware and software is being eliminated, but, instead in some cases, is moving towards the cloud. This is true for DPS, as we have embraced this concept in that many of our business functions and educational solutions are cloud based such as our SIS, parent communication tools, educational tools like Carnegie Learning, Renaissance Learning, NBC Learn, and more.

“The cloud provides low-cost or free technology that can fill the gaps in teaching and learning”

One of our most recent decisions was to move to Office 365 for both the central office, school-based and student populations. This was a very important move for us. We saw Microsoft Office 365 as a new approach to integrating technology into the classroom, while at the same time satisfying financial challenges that left the district without a strong, robust business communication tool for our students and staff. Office 365 brings together a suite of collaboration tools that can facilitate the future needs of our students. While our students have used the Microsoft Office tools, with exception to the email functions, for a decade in the classroom, Office 365 allows access anywhere in the world.

These examples demonstrate the benefits of cloud computing, in the education space as it supports education without walls and allows access to learning anytime, anyplace. This is truly a benefit in the K-12 space as we continue to create blended learning models that provide students with a sort of ‘outdoor lab’. It has moved districts forward that otherwise would not have had the resources for this exploration of the changing fundamentals of differentiated learning.

 I love the phrase ’outdoor lab’ because it is in keeping with the whole philosophy of ecosystems. I read a story some time ago about how students at a university were using their devices (smartphone and laptop) to complete research outside and inside the walls of the university. Students were using their devices to research the university database, download an app to test soil using sensors on the smartphone, dictate notes to the smartphone and return to the university where the laptop, which was connected to the mobile device, was able to receive the data and translate notes and the pictures that were taken.

Years ago, it would have taken weeks to complete, analyze and write up a report. Yet these students were able to complete their work in an afternoon. How far the industry has come? What’s next? This is the game changer for the education industry. For DPS, our students have embraced cloud computing at the elementary school level to the extent that they provide local support to their school, they introduced to their peers ‘Hour of Code’ (The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ counties. Anyone anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages). They have led the charge with their teachers, academic leadership and Information Technology Services in the internet of things.

To this end, the digitalization of education is gaining more mind share of academic and school leadership. In this enigma, there is no ‘one size fits all’ set of technologies, and the institutional leadership must make well-informed choices that are a fit for several parameters, such as institutional business model, geography and teacher readiness. At the end of the day, education is all about the power of teaching and learning.

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