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Cloud Computing and K-12 Education

by Tom Bittman  |  November 26, 2008  |  25 Comments

Recently, I started working on a committee developing a technology plan for our school district.This has been a huge eye-opener for me. 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. These trends are moving much faster than our current educational system can handle (by the way, some educational professionals DO get it, and I hope they keep pushing!).

K12 CloudTechnology 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.

Here are my thoughts on three fundamentally new impacts that must be factored into our educational system:

Low-Cost and Free Technology: There has been a huge growth in low-cost and free technology for social interaction, publishing, collaborating, editing, content creation, computing, etc.

Many, many technologies that were previously expensive or unavailable are now becoming free to anyone with a web browser. This is true for web sites, blogs, video sharing, music sharing, social sharing, collaboration software, editing/presentation and publishing, computing platforms in the “cloud”, etc. Our students are already using many of these technologies in their personal lives. In the professional world, the trend of discovering and using technologies in your personal life, and then bringing it into your professional life is called “consumerization”. Our education system should take advantage of this same trend, which will both enrich our student’s technology-enabled education, and importantly, reduce our budget impact.

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.

Potential vision statement: The district will identify and leverage emerging technologies that are cost-effective, and strive for the broadest feasible and equitable access to technology for students and staff.

Content Growth: The amount of content (art, expression, opinions, true and false information of all forms) is growing at an exponential rate, available to a broad audience, and anyone can contribute.

Content has traditionally come from limited, relatively “known” channels – textbooks, encyclopedias, newspapers, television. Most content now comes from relatively “unknown” sources through the web. Content can be true, partially true, or false. Content can be enriching or unsafe and debasing. There is more of all of the above available to us instantaneously. The ability to use rapidly changing and evolving technologies to safely filter and find content in order to achieve our personal or professional goals is a critical 21st century skill.

But the web is not simply a less-trustworthy encyclopedia – it is also a place to publish and interact with content. Content creation has traditionally been very personal during the K-12 years, and content produced then has often had a very short lifespan. Publishing text, images, films, art, and opinions has been limited to a small audience, and publishing tools were very limited. The scope of a student’s influence was traditionally limited to a class, a school, possibly a small community. Information and content have traditionally been relatively static things, created once and rarely if ever changed. The reuse of existing content was allowed if referenced, but over-use was plagiarism and is strictly prohibited.

This is no longer true. Anyone can create content that is available to the world instantly, and can last for many years – possibly “forever”. Content can be constantly evolving through collaboration and interaction and updates. People don’t just refer to information, or just copy it, they interact with it. They modify it, they add to it – and this is to be encouraged. Tools for publishing, creating, interacting with content are changing every year. Individuals of any age can influence opinions worldwide. It is becoming easier to contribute individually and collaboratively to the art, information and opinions in the world, express ourselves both individually and collaboratively, and influence and lead. The ability to use rapidly changing and evolving technologies to create, communicate, collaborate, express one’s self, and influence others is a critical 21st century skill.

Potential vision statement: The district will help students and staff leverage technologies to effectively, safely and ethically find, evaluate, use, and add to online content.

Collaboration: Technology is rapidly improving the ability to communicate and collaborate with others.

Connecting with people has traditionally been in-person or by telephone, and teams are formed and work face-to-face. The people who connect already know each other. Social tools start as personal tools, but are more and more rapidly moving from the personal to the professional world. It is becoming easier to find and connect with anyone in many new and expanding ways: mobile phones, email, instant messaging, social and collaborative software, blogs. Other people can be safe or dangerous, helpful or not, enlightening or degrading, synergistic and collaborative or not. The ability to use rapidly changing and evolving technologies to safely filter and find people who can help us achieve our personal or professional goals is a critical 21st century skill.

Collaboration has been a one-time, relatively static and sequential process. New technologies make interactive collaboration possible on the web, between students in the same class, or around the world. Dynamic teaming and very interactive collaboration are 21st century skills.

Potential vision statement: The district will help students and staff leverage technologies to collaborate with others efficiently, effectively, synergistically, safely and ethically.

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Category: cloud  education  

Tags: cloud-computing  education  

Thomas J. Bittman
VP Distinguished Analyst
20 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Thomas Bittman is a vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research. Mr. Bittman has led the industry in areas such as private cloud computing and virtualization. Mr. Bittman invented the term "real-time infrastructure," which has been adopted by major vendors and many… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Cloud Computing and K-12 Education

  1. […] and how will it impact k-12education? Here’s a snippet of what Thomas Bittman a member of the Gartner Blog Network has to say in his November 26 post entitled, Cloud Computing and K-12 Education, […]

  2. […] by Pete Reilly 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 […]

  3. Don Watkins says:

    Thanks for a well written article. I agree with you and glad to see someone else is writing on this topic. I’ve been suggesting to my own school district and anyone who would listen in our region that this is the way to go. Many people thought I had spent too much time in the sun.

  4. […] love feedback and comments. Let me also share some of the thinking behind the vision (some of the background pre-discussion is here). Our school district recognizes that technology is vital to prepare students for lifelong […]

  5. […] The post: Cloud Computing and K-12 Education […]

  6. […] I’d recommend the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. And, of course, my own thoughts on the impact of the web, social software and cloud computing on education. Good luck, and I’d love comments! […]

  7. Troy Benson says:

    The cloud provides incredible value to education. Between lowered energy costs, reduced IT costs, and better access to the educators tools, it seems easy to embrace.

  8. […] already has found many takers in the K-12 education sector as well as in higher education. Thomas Bittman from the  Gartner Group voices the opinion of many technology coordinators for K-12 education when […]

  9. David K says:

    Thomas, what vendors is your district considering? I am not a vendor at all (as a matter of fact I am not even in the software/hardware business) but I am curious if there are many different players offering cloud computing services to schools.

    Thank you

  10. Peter says:

    Cloud computing has definatly shifted quicked than we expected and is proving to be an efficient and cheap method for educational institutions to be at the forefront of technology and enjoy its benefits. We are implementing a cloud system for our preschools similar to So far its been cheaper than expected, but we need some more assurance on the security side of things.

  11. Finally companies are realising the benefits of cloud computing for educational faculties around the world. We’re working on a managment software program for daycares using cloud technlogy. So far so good…

  12. […] This development has been explained in some detail by Thomas Bittman of the Gartner Group. […]

  13. Jeffrey Shafer, Ed.D. says:

    This is a welcome article and school districts need to become aware of this huge potential. I shudder when I read of school systems that want to spend big bucks on giving every student a traditional laptop computer or iPad. Money is tight and needs to be spent in an efficient and planned manner. More power to the \Cloud\!

  14. […] Cloud Computing and K-12 Education 26 Nov 2008. Thomas Bittman from the Gartner Group voices the opinion of many technology coordinators for K-12 education when […] 10 David K January 6, Cloud Computing and K-12 Education […]

  15. […] Cloud computing. You’ve likely seen the “to the cloud!” commercials on TV, but probably didn’t consider the advantages of this type of computing for students and educators. For one, it allows easy collaboration on everything from simple homework assignments to in-depth presentations – and it makes it much harder for students to forget a homework assignment when it’s easily available to pull up on the web. Additionally, cloud computing provides access to a wide range of educational materials without students actually having to be on-site. They can access any resources they need from anywhere with an internet connection– and that’s a powerful force when it comes to equal access in education. It may also be better for the bottom line, requiring less equipment for both students and schools. With a world rapidly moving towards ubiquitous wi-fi, cloud computing in both e-learning and classrooms is going to be around for years to come. […]

  16. […] being lower costs for educators and access to free technologies, as mentioned in Bittman’s blog article on the subject. Considering the emphasis on ensuring schools are up-to-date with new and innovative […]

  17. Oya SANLI says:

    I’m totally agree cloud computing with socialization will change the education in anyways. We should learn & teach how to collaborate in a right way and how to filter the content especially in a social environment. As far as I see we are getting in to much more open world, and it is really good for some aspects and it is also bad for some other aspects for children..

  18. Today I was finding many more education blogs and I have read your many post related to educations topics I’m agree with cloud computing and off course socialization will change the education in anyways. I am studying about how can I improve child education and gaining his/her capability or performance in other platform. Thanks for posting various interesting topics in your blog. Our cce system helps to student to finding about all information and activity about our student and helps to making report card. In last I’ll say thanks for your blog and it will help to complete our project.

  19. […] from Gartner Posted in Cloud Biz News | Tags: cloud computing in education, cloud education, education […]

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