Blog post

Cloud Computing and K-12 Education

By Tom Bittman | November 26, 2008 | 8 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.

Leave a Comment


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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\!

  • 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..

  • 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.