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Tools for Learning | CT 2011 Coverage

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Teaching with the Cloud

All educators today, but especially those in post-secondary roles, need to learn how to make the most of cloud-based resources in their teaching practices, according to education consultant John Kuglin. The best way to get up to speed on those resources is to take them for a test drive, he said. Fortunately, there's a bunch of free or nearly free stuff out there that virtually anyone can use to get started in the cloud.

"In the [last] 12 to 18 months, there has been an explosion of technologies that have really changed the way we can work as 21st century educators," Kuglin told attendees at the Campus Technology 2011 conference, going on this week in Boston. "And it's up to you to take stock of them, kick a few tires, and figure out how you might be able to deploy them at your school."

Kuglin led an interactive, nuts-and-bolts conference session that exposed attendees to a range of cloud-based tools and technologies, from planning and presentation applications to innovative cloud storage systems and collaboration solutions.

"In the 21st century, you must have a digital footprint," he said. "You really have no choice. And nowadays, that means the cloud."

Kuglin is a retired associate dean and former NASA grant administrator for the University of Montana. He now runs his own consulting practice, through which focuses on technology in K-12 and university classrooms. Kuglin has appeared on CNN, testified before the United States Senate, and served as consultant and on-air host for a 10-part technology series on the Learning Channel.

Kuglin looked at wikis, Web sites designed to allow visitors to freely add, edit, remove, comment on, and just generally change the content stored there, through WikiSpaces. He demonstrated the cloud-based SlideRocket slide-show tool and the CoverItLive live blogging software. He explored cloud-based storage with Dropbox and Pogoplug. He created an easy, cloud-based recording with Screencast-O-Matic, which is billed as "the original online screen recorder. He demonstrated the cloud-based mind-mapping application Mindmeister. And he explored advanced classroom applications of Google Earth.

Kuglin emphasized the ease-of-use of these tools and used them on the spot to assemble an ad hoc, cloud-based tutorial, complete with an audio file.

"These are tools that live outside the campus," Kuglin said. "Where is all of this content? It's actually in a data farm out in San Francisco. It's not on this machine. I can go to any of your machines, and as long as you are connected, I could continue doing this presentation. I don't need my laptop anymore, just a device that's connected to the Internet. We need to get used to that idea."

Kuglin lead his audience through several presentations created in the cloud with SlideRocket. "Those of you who are responsible for your online learning environments are already beginning to see a new model emerge here," he said. "The cloud-based presentation package is surpassing and supplanting the PC-based, PowerPoint world. This is a huge, huge step forward."

"Teachers need to stop saying 'hand it in' and start saying 'publish it,'" he added.

To the inevitable question from his audience about objections raised by campus IT about the security of the cloud, Kuglin said, "I understand that it's an issue, but we cannot continue to hide behind the safety issue, not if we want to offer competitive educational services. The old paradigm was university computer, university employee, university network. Boom, boom, boom; we're secure. But the old days are gone."

During a post-session interview Kuglin said that, even though it's the students who are demanding the kind of information access and educational paradigms enabled by the cloud, his focus is not on the students on the teachers. "You simply have to start working this way," Kuglin said. "And you can't rely on your current employ to provide everything you need to be an effective educator today. You have to go out now and set up your own systems and, essentially, become bigger than your current environment."

Kuglin has made several elements of his presentation available on his Web site.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Mountain View, CA.

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