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Tag: cloud

ISTE Quick Thoughts: While We Were Busy

The game just changed.

At least according to headline on the full-page Microsoft ad in the USA Today that was left at my hotel room door this morning. The company was announcing the release of Office 365, the cloud-based version of their classic suite of productivity tools.

I wonder if this move to the cloud by the dominant company in business computing will have much impact on the schools and colleges represented here at ISTE. In many if not most sessions, presenters were showing how they are already using web applications with their students to do the same kinds of things they might have used Office (or something similar) for five, eight, ten years ago.

Certainly there’s Google Docs but also a large and growing number of other sites that make it easy to collect, manage, share, and present information. Most are free, or cost far less than the $6 – 27 a month per user Microsoft wants, depending on how many pieces of Office 365 you rent.

So, will there be a big demand in schools for a cloud-based version of Word and PowerPoint? Is this something businesses will pay for?

21st Century Dumb Terminal

This week the latest edition of “Technology to Save Education” will arrive!

Maybe.

On Wednesday, Google plans to release something called the Chromebook and a program called Chromebook for Education (actually it’s lumped under business/education, since, as we all know, education is just another business).

As I read Google’s announcement and scanned various reactions to the Chromebook, my first impression is that this new device is not so much the next step in connected computing as it is a 70’s flashback to the time of computing through a dumb terminal.

Lear-Siegler ADM5 video display terminal

For those who were lucky enough to have been born into their computing life during the age of relatively inexpensive personal computers (my first was an Apple IIe) and missed the experience, a dumb terminal was a screen-with-keyboard unit connected to an mainframe computer in another room or another state.  All of the digital work was done by that unseen machine with the results displayed on your screen.

That’s basically how the Chromebook works. When you turn it on (very fast start up was one of the features Google is pushing hard), all you see is the browser, in which all applications are run (Google Docs word processing, for example.) All documents and information you need are also stored in the “cloud”.

For schools, another big selling point was that they wouldn’t own a Chromebook as much as subscribe to it – $20 a month for each unit on a three year contract.  No IT department needed, although, as near as I can tell, that price doesn’t include the absolutely essential connectivity, so either you either provide the wifi connections, or pay extra for a 3G contract.

So, is this the next big thing in ed tech? Can we forget netbooks, tablets, and computers running that antiquated software called an “operating system”?

Probably not.

Google says in their announcement that “With HTML5 and other open standards, web applications will soon be able to do anything traditional applications can do, and more.” but anyone who has used Google Docs and the equivalent programs on even a tablet knows that “soon” is not now.

And the final specifications for HTML5 are not even supposed to be released until 2022, so banking on that technology to replace independently configured devices and native applications is probably not a near-term solution to whatever problems Google thinks we currently have in instructional computing.

From the school’s side of things, certainly the face-value costs of using Chromebooks would be lower since the $720 price tag ($20 a month over three years) is about half what our overly-large school district pays for a standard laptop (although more than our standard netbook), and three years is the realistic life span of one in the hands of kids or teachers.  Plus Google says the fee includes all maintenance and upgrades.

And since, theoretically, everyone will be using Google Apps for their work, the experience is now standardized.  Every student would have a device that looks and acts like all the other devices in the system and there would be no concerns about lost work due to hard drive crashes or virus infestations.  Our IT department and most teachers seem to love standardization, at least when it comes to tech for student use.

Of course, at this point all I know about a Chromebook is what I’ve read on Google’s site, the reactions of others who were actually at the conference, and lots of speculation. I’m hoping to get some hands-on time with it at Google’s ISTE booth in two weeks.

However, at this point I’m wondering: is the ideal personal computer for instruction a device that is, in effect, a dumb terminal straight out of the 70’s?


Image: Lear-Sieglar ADM5 video display terminal by LevitateMe on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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