As we talk more about thin clients, netbooks, social networking and other devices in Ed Tech that really lend themselves to cloud-based computing, I have to ask myself, could I live in the Cloud? In the ideal little technically-savvy, netbook-driven world I'm concocting in my head, I'm certainly expecting the students (and preferably the teachers) I serve do the majority of their work in the cloud. If I can't eat my own dog food, so to speak, then something is remiss.
Not that I think "cloud computing," as the buzz word of the week, is equivalent to dog food. On the contrary, I think that it has extraordinary potential and can solve some serious problems relating to hardware costs, maintenance, and communication/collaboration models in educational technology. It just isn't the way most of us tend to work.
We create our Word documents (or OpenOffice Writer documents), our spreadsheets, and our presentations on a computer, store it on a hard drive or a USB pen drive, and call it a day. Too often, adventurous or collaborative means emailing the document to colleagues, friends, or students. This isn't a terrible model, but it doesn't promote sharing. I'm not talking about everybody getting to use the toys in the sandbox, but rather the sort of working together that sums up "21st Century Skills."
It also doesn't promote longevity of the things we produce. Hard drives die, files get lost, thumb drives get run through the washing machine (my wife really hates it when I leave them in my pockets). We switch jobs, get hit by buses, or otherwise move on. Documents that live somewhere in the ether, though, can live on.
Finally, the Word-document-on-a-hard-drive model doesn't promote the sort of openness and transparency appropriate for educators. Especially in public education, we shouldn't have anything to hide (except for confidential student information). Working in the cloud, or simply making sure that deliverables are available in an online forum, enables that mentality of collaboration that is so important for students and teachers. Why should a teacher with a good idea in a school only have that idea benefit their classroom? And why should students simply turn in essays when everyone in the class can benefit from their thoughts and mutual constructive criticism?
At least that's the theory, right? So here's my goal for the week. Office suites are off limits, my email client won't get opened, Google Docs and WikiSpaces will be my home away from home, and I'll see just where I come up short when I don't use any applications outside the browser on my various computers. What else do I need to do to make sure that I can access and work on what I need, anytime, anywhere? I'll find out and give you an update at the end of the week. If it goes well, then I'm going to feel a lot better about promoting the purchases of cheap, durable netbooks with cheap, durable, small flash drives.