Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cloud Computing and Learning @BVSD

DSC00481.JPGToday’s teaching environment is broader and more accessible than ever before. The online environment, or “cloud”, that our educators are able to access offers a robust supply of resources, experiences, and connections for both teachers and their students.

Yet, the move to Chomebooks, and cloud computing, in BVSD is sometimes perceived as a limit to experiences and resources needed for learning or working. And while this view is not surprising, especially for those who grew up in an age of Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and locally installed software, it no longer accurately portrays the access that Chromebooks and cloud computing provide for learning and participating in our global society.

In my role as CIO, I use the Chrome environment and have not turned on my Mac in months. I’ve learned the device does not matter--it’s what I can access through the portal of the device that really impacts my work. I can communicate, collaborate, create, learn and lead with the resources available online. I see this shift to cloud computing in education as even companies like Microsoft are developing tools like the Cloudbook, a future competitor of Chromebooks.

Birchdec16 32.jpgIn the shift to cloud devices and resources, we have a dilemma.  As a parent I want to see BVSD eliminate 40-pound backpacks and physical textbooks in favor of digital resources that are hosted in the cloud, but this shift requires devices and time. I’ve heard we don’t need devices until we have digital curriculum, and I’ve also heard that we don’t need digital curriculum until we have devices. The classic catch-22.

Like most transitions, at some point a leap is needed. In our case in BVSD, that leap is to the Chromebook, a device that allows for learning to happen anywhere and at anytime. In the move to the modern world of the cloud, BVSD has purchased an extensive set of educational technology software that is cloud-based -- powerful tools like Google Earth, WeVideo, BrainPop, Voicethread and G Suite (Google Apps) for Education to name a few.  BVSD is exploring digital content resources available from companies like Discovery Education that could potentially replace the physical textbooks that many of our courses still require. In addition, there are many free open-access resources, like Khan Academy, that can begin some of this work now.

This shift to cloud computing is evident in many classrooms in BVSD. For example, Kay Davidson, 1:Web Specialist and Biology teacher at Broomfield High School, leads the efforts to transform teaching by using cloud-based learning. This year, she’s exploring how Google Classroom helps her connect with students beyond the limits of face to face and in an online, blended environment where students can learn and collaborate in real-time. Kay has presented on these ideas in her work with the 21st Century Cohort. Her reflection on her time in the cohort illustrates how these connections impacted her students:

You can view a variety of projects designed and produced by BVSD students using cloud-based resources in our student examples collection.

BHGT 01.jpgIn the transition to education in the cloud, BVSD will continue to support many device types including PCs, Macs, iPads, and Chromebooks.  There are still a few programs in our schools (Digital Arts, Engineering, etc.) that need a device like a PC or Mac to run software for those specific courses. Even still, many of these programs are moving to the cloud and I anticipate will be available on a Chromebook soon. The latest graphics based program to move from the device to the cloud/browser is Google Earth. It runs just as well on a $180 Chromebook as it does on a $1200 Mac. The same can be said of the iMovie replacement, cloud-based WeVideo.

Regardless of where you are on the journey to using educational resources in the cloud, the transition is happening quickly. BVSD’s general move to Chromebooks and the ability to teach from resources that are always up-to-date and accessible highlights this change.

I know the full transition to the cloud will take a few more years. Be assured that IT and Ed Tech are here for you. We all can learn together in this migration to anywhere, anyplace, anytime education using the cloud.

I want to hear from you!  Please chime in below with your thoughts and questions and maybe examples of any software you rely on that requires a Mac or PC.



  1. Except that google has been caught (against the terms of their privacy agreement) collecting data on schoolchildren using chromebooks. https://www.wired.com/2015/12/google-collected-data-on-schoolchildren-without-permission/. Listen, I get why a cheap $200 chromebook is going to be very enticing to a school district, but remember - if you're not paying for a product, then most likely you ARE the product. I hope privacy issues have been well thought out, and policies are in place to make sure data is not being inadvertently leaked to advertisers.

    1. We are not aware of any confirmed issues of Google using information inappropriately. There are rumors but that does not constitute fact. Google has also updated their privacy policy for G-Suite for Education. It can be found here: https://edu.google.com/trust/

    2. Here are two legal facts regarding Google's past misrepresentation of privacy promises, and past violation of privacy policy:

      1) https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2011/03/ftc-charges-deceptive-privacy-practices-googles-rollout-its-buzz

      2) https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2012/08/google-will-pay-225-million-settle-ftc-charges-it-misrepresented

      If you believe that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, then the current complaint is worth reading, and all reasonable precautions worth taking.

      3) https://www.eff.org/files/2015/12/01/ftccomplaint-googleforeducation.pdf

    3. I'm not here to defend or advocate for any vendor. And I'm not sure how this got posted as anonymous posts are blocked by default. But I'm leaving this up to highlight this post is anonymous and there is no way to tell if this is a Google competitor posting these data and unproven accusatory statements. The key is that Google has updated their privacy rules and the tools stated in these links are not part of the Google for Education suite and therefore not used at BVSD. I would encourage you to repost with your name for an open transparent conversation on cloud computing - the topic of this blog. Data privacy comments can be posted on my data privacy blog.

    4. "Shooting the messenger may be a time-honored emotional response to unwanted news, but it's not a very effective method of remaining well-informed." —Bruce Sanford

      I'm sorry I cannot comment publicly, but please trust that I do so without passion or prejudice; like Google, I have the best interest of our students in mind. I believe that data privacy (and security) is directly related to and a prerequisite of cloud computing, and I try to be respectful and helpful in my comments. Please don't censor me.

      You said you were "not aware of any confirmed issues of Google using information inappropriately", so I referenced two cases where Google was found to have violated the law and its own policy. While the Safari web browser and Buzz social networking tool are not part of the G Suite, these examples are relevant because Google does provide similar services with Chrome and Plus. These are not "rumors" or "unproven accusatory statements", they are litigated facts which no longer need to be defended. Regarding the third example, the EFF complaint which the FTC has yet to rule on, Google has acknowledged at least some of the allegations surrounding GAFE, and as you pointed out, changed some of its practices following the media and public scrutiny (*).

      My point is not to say Google is "bad" and competitors are better, or BVSD can't use technology because it's risky, but simply to raise a couple of questions:

      1) Should BVSD blindly trust Google and its guarantees?
      In my opinion, no, Google has been caught cheating and lying before, and more generally, you wouldn't leave your house unlocked because there are laws against theft.

      2) Can BVSD come up with effective safeguards?
      Without going full Snowden with IP solutions, it's easy enough to disable tracking features, encrypt sync data, and use privacy extensions and search engines. Obviously, I also think de-identification has a lot of merit.

      This is my feedback, given with the hope of building a shared community vision for the use of technology in our public schools.

      (*) http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2016/02/google_acknowledges_data_mining_GAFE_users.html
      (*) https://www.franken.senate.gov/files/letter/160216GoogleResponse.pdf
      (*) https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/10/google-changes-its-tune-when-it-comes-tracking-students

  2. What about Board Maker software for special education teachers?

    1. Our Ed Tech team is looking into this software now.

    2. Hello--I would like to reach out to you directly to receive more information. Can you contact me at nannette.mcmurtry@bvsd.org with the link to these resource? Thank you!

  3. I use AgentSheets. I am aware that AgentCubes is in the cloud, but I would like to still use AgentSheets. If we go to Chromebooks, I loose a big part of my curriculum because I loose AgentSheets. Also, if I am forced to go to AgentCubes, is the district going to pay for the subscription fees?

    I also use BlueJ for my Java class. Is there a program that works like BlueJ in the cloud? If yes, is there a fee to use it. BlueJ is free.

    1. Computer Science teachers will get Windows based devices by default allowing you to run Java and AgentCubes.

  4. Both Microsoft and Apple also collect private data from the OS:

    In fact, any Spotlight or Saved Search technology integrated with public services is doing the same. Apple's privacy policy states this very clearly: "When you use Spotlight or Look Up, your search queries, the Spotlight Suggestions you select, and related usage data will be sent to Apple".

    If privacy was truly a priority, then the best option is to use reasonably priced hardware and install an open-source OS such as Linux or FreeBSD on it. Even then, if one uses any public service of convenience, such as Google Gmail/Docs, Microsoft 365, etc., one is giving up privacy to do so. BVSD would have to run its own services to ensure privacy and functionality, but the risk there is that running a high-quality service 24/7 with strong security is difficult and expensive. There aren't a ton of good options.

    1. That's the thing though - "Apple's privacy policy states this very clearly" vs. Google actually doing the exact opposite of what they promised to do when they signed onto the student privacy pledge. Also, there is a difference between gathering data to improve heuristics vs. packaging up the data to entice advertisers.

      Again, I'm not against the idea of cloud services. I'd just like to see that someone has taken a look at the privacy angle, and we have a little bit of assurance that information won't be shared.

    2. Vendors who sell us contracted software are required to sign a BVSD Data Privacy Addendum (DPA). You can find a template here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1noyvrMvabfaTlNk_8HU7LXp3IxFsfPCIzu7zl7AJnuo/edit?usp=sharing

  5. I home schooled my kids in elementary school, and now write. Yes, the web (or cloud as you call it) is a powerful tool, I used it regularly for teaching and research, and submitting articles ere and there. And yes, textbooks are heavy and out of date before they are printed. BUT computers are NOT the be all end all. First, there is blue light messing with kid's sleep and brain / hormone patterns. Second, there is a real need for us to interact face to face, to build real things with our hands, including holding real books and flipping paper pages with our physical hands, in community with real, physical people.

    As well, the security concerns raised above are quite real. In addition, there is a burgeoning criminal field of cyber bullying and cyber crime including stalking and seduction, and identity theft, from which we need to keep our kids safe.

    My two cents: OK to use computers and explore using web for learning. But DO NOT REQUIRE kids to subsist on computers alone. AND ensure that there is not over exposure to blue light, with preferably NO exposure after sunset. AND severely limit computer use period for kids before adolescence. Frankly, I agree with Waldorf and Enki curricula - kids under high school don't need computers period. Physical hand-eye development and real physical social interaction are especially critical for younger kids. Actual, real world, experiential learning (digging in the dirt, making physical objects, interacting with real people in person, etc.) is essential for healthy brain / nervous system, and emotional development, and overall well being.

    1. As with most things in life, moderation is key. We have extensive information on the usage of devices on our 1:Web website. http://it.bvsd.org/edtech/Pages/BYOD.aspx

  6. PS
    I consider computers inherently seductive because they are (a) powerful; (b) the flickering of images activates our 'lizard brain' and is hypnotic and addictive; (c) the blue light stimulates us to feel as if we have more energy than we really do, and messes with sleep hormones, with the resulting tendency to keep us up too late and leave us dopey the next day. SO maybe use them in the classroom with restraint. Would we feed our kids straight caffeine undiluted with real nutrition, and expect them to be healthy? I am suggesting caution and balance.

    1. I agree with the need for balance in the usage of any technology.

  7. The only thing keeping me on a laptop right now is the music notation software (Finale or Sibelius). There are several cloud-based options (Noteflight, flat.io, and somewhat Musescore), but as of now, the functionality that they provide hasn't caught up with these more powerful programs. I am hopeful that there will soon be something cloud-based that is comparable with Finale/Sibelius - please share if you know of anything!

  8. Thanks Aubrey. Our Ed Tech team will look into this specific situation.

  9. Hey, Folks,

    I've worked as an IT sys admin for almost 30 years.

    I'm a book lover and avid reader.

    My older boy is on a field trip to San Diego at the moment and I LOVE the fact that he and his classmates experience so many real-world adventures through BVSD.

    And...He's taking pictures, notes, etc. on his Google smart phone so that he can prepare his Marine Biology report in Google Apps after he returns. He'll do some of it on ChromeBooks at school, and some on his own ChromeBook at home.

    This is WONDERFUL preparation for his future work, whatever that may be, and whether he uses Google or Microsoft or whatever comes next.

    BVSD is doing the right thing by using the Google ecosystem - they're even saving money by doing so vs Microsoft or textbooks.

    There are plenty of legitimate concerns, technical challenges, and training needs that need to be evaluated and overcome.

    But this is the way to go and the only question is, "How do we go faster?"

    Jordan Kilpatrick


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