Rajesh Adusumilli, CIO/Assistant Superintendent for Information Services, Arlington Public Schools
Benefits of Cloud Computing in the Education Space
One of the challenges school districts have faced in the past with technology was that the K-12 market did not represent a sufficient revenue source to make it attractive to developers. Cloud computing allows relatively small companies to offer services to the entire K12 market, and to scale the provisioning of their services to demand, without needing the massive start-up funds that were previously required. This has resulted in a blossoming of quality services that can now be financially viable. Schools have more choice, and better choices, now that cloud computing has "democratized" service deployment. At the same time, because providers can address the entire K12 market at once, their services are more cost effective, saving schools money. And because experts manage the base cloud infrastructure, the services are far more reliable than vendor-hosted or on-site deployments.
"Schools have more choice, and better choices, now that cloud computing has "democratized" service deployment"
Aside from the major "free-ish" services like Google Apps and Office 365, we are also seeing a lot of classroom level innovation with different communications services. Not just twitter and chat, but tools geared specifically to the classroom for brainstorming, classroom collaboration and group engagement.
The economies of scale inherent in cloud computing are allowing us to start to shift resources (aka:money) out of our data center and magnify the value per dollar spent. Shifting "commodity" services up into the cloud allows us to focus our resources on the kind of unique issues that can help move us forward as a school system; issues that may be unique to our organizational culture or specific demographics where market based solutions aren't available.
Pervasive access (school, home, and mobile) is a correlative aspect of cloud computing that brings an unprecedented potential flexibility to education and allows us to begin to address issues of equity of opportunity, which will allow us to "level the playing field" like never before.
Consolidation and Integration of Data in Education Domain
One of the biggest challenges in Education is data normalization. So much of our "actionable" data is qualitative and interpretive. Educators tend to downplay quantitative data because it lacks the contextual nuance that is so important in the very human interactions of the classroom. To a teacher, there is useful data and then there's the stuff we report. Too often we collect and report the data that is easy to get, but no very useful to have. Data will never drive the "business" of education until we find a way to collect, analyze, and report on data teachers find meaningful. That means we have to stop pick¬ing the low hanging fruit. Real time assessment is probably the key, but the assessment tools have to improve or the process needs to be re-engineered. The idea behind "flipping" the classroom is a start, but I think personal technology will bring even more fundamental changes to the classroom
Data security is the other big challenge here. Personalized data must be heavily guarded, but de-personalized data isn't very useful to a teacher. We have to increase capacity around data security so that we can make personalized data available to those that need it with jeopardizing privacy. This will require a combination of simpler, but effective, security measures and increased trustee accountability.
Important Steps for Fostering Innovation
One key is communication. Every school wants to meet the goal of "individualized learning" but more often than not the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Technology can allow the teacher to "hear" kids that they might not of heard before, both through new modes of communication and though data analytical assessment. Technology provides more avenues for communication and ultimately that can increase the teacher’s capacity to differentiate the instruction.
I would say, "Don't try to start with a 'killer app'". It is important to cover the basics of communication and productivity. Make the technology useful in the everyday sense, and then start adding value with targeted add-ons. One of the reasons the iPhone is so much more successful than the iPad or the iPod is that it addresses a basic function, voice communication, and then adds value from there.
Changing Role of CIOs
In business, IT departments have been making a shift from being considered a cost center to being a strategic resource. At APS there has been a similar shift from viewing technology as add-on to education (a luxury item or a vocational tool), to viewing as a necessary component of education. This is rooted in the cultural shift brought on by mobile computing. One day we realized that almost everyone is using this technology to manage their personal and professional lives, and we can leverage that both to improve the educational process, and to prepare stu¬dents for the broader cultural expectations around technology.
The Age of Information
One of main cultural shifts we have seen in the "Internet Age" is the shift in expectations around knowledge. We no longer need to "know things" when so much information is so readily available, but we need to know how to find information, process it, and act on it. This may be the biggest disruption in the education market; a shift from knowledge to information processing. Making sure students develop this ability, and have access to the sources of information is key. That is one goal of the personalized learning initiative.
Infrastructure Investment in Education
In the near term, schools have to invest in pervasive wireless networking, but in the 7-14 year time frame this could easily shift to market based solutions. We already see the merging of the two in two ways: 1) Telecom carriers supporting "Wi-Fi Calling" and 2) In the necessity for schools to install antenna repeaters in their buildings to improve mobile phone service. This is just the beginning. We are probably only two technology iterations away from market based universal wireless access. Educational institutions should be ready to partner with the market so that the prevailing technology of the day works well within their walls, but they are no longer directly responsible for providing the service.
IoT has not permeated K12 too much yet, but I think it will be important to set cultural expectations around interactions outside the school, in much the same way we need to shore up current cultural expectations around IM. Keeping the students focused on learning, and being able to filter out the noise is both a modern life skill and a requirement for effective learning. Figuring out what to pay attention to, and when, is more challenging today, then is used to be, and the IoT will multiply the sources of distraction.
On the other hand, increasing device intelligence has the potential to make resource management more efficient and thereby free up potential resources to be redirected to front-line education.