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User Profile | Feature

A Real Cloud Power User

A paperless classroom can turn a student into a cloud computing power user, tweeting his homework, taking tests on an iPad, and replacing old-school spiral notebooks with apps. Drew Lord, a sophomore at St. Luke's School in New Canaan, CT, is glad his teachers are using cloud technology effectively.

A paperless classroom can turn a student into a cloud computing power user, tweeting his homework, taking tests on an iPad, and replacing old-school spiral notebooks with apps. Drew Lord, a 16-year-old sophomore at St. Luke's School in New Canaan, CT, says two of his teachers are using cloud technology effectively, and for his other classes he is using a suite of cloud-based resources on his own.

In particular, Lord’s Spanish teacher, Lee Bruner, gets high marks for his all-tech approach. "I'm taking Spanish I and he's teaching the entire class on iPads, so it's an entire paper-free classroom," Lord said. "He downloaded a bunch of apps onto the iPad…so we have access to all those apps and he teaches through those apps.”

Apps in heavy rotation include Ever Note, which allows students to take notes and share them with their teacher. Lord also uses Good Reader, an app that allows him to view scanned pages from their textbook.

While "being green" is important to Lord, he also appreciates the unique dimension tweeting brings to learning a new language.

"We use Twitter a lot," Lord said. "We have to, let's say, answer a certain question in Spanish, so we answer the question and he replies to us, asking another question.”

With Twitter, Lords classmates can all follow one another, allowing them to track multiple conversations. “You can see their edits--what they've done wrong and what they've done well--so that helps you take in the language a little bit more than just having a private, one-on-one conversation through e-mail. It's collaborative."

Some adults, including parents, interpret the use of technology as playing around. But Robin Lord, Drew's mother, calls that nonsense.

"Teachers give these group projects on a regular basis and, without the Google Docs and Facebook and all that stuff, it would be me driving the kids to the library or my house," Lord said. "They’re just able to get a lot more done."

There are house rules about internet use for the Lord children, but Robin likes that her children have access to the latest and greatest resources to further their learning. One evening Drew was in his bedroom alone, but working with his classmates.

"He was in his room and it sounds like there was a party going on," Lord said. "They were studying for a Spanish test. They do projects that way, they do homework that way, they help each other a lot."

Lord takes his laptop, iPhone, and iPad to school every day. Bypassing school-owned hardware in favor of connecting to the school's WiFi, he'll use his smartphone to surf for information he needs for a class or his laptop to check for homework assignments posted to a teacher's web page.

He's also leveraging cloud resources in his own way, particularly through the use of private Facebook groups, which are favored over those groups created by the school.

"One person in my class usually sets up a group just so that, when we are doing homework or a project or something, we can talk about it through there," Lord said. "Instead of going through the teacher, you can just post the question in your group, and most people have the answer to it.”

The collaborative nature of social media also has students finding creative solutions to once insurmountable problems. Left a worksheet at school? No problem. Post a note on Facebook and someone else can scan and post the document. Download, print, and you're ready to go.

Keeping Organized in the Cloud
Each teacher has a web page with class assignments, documents, and announcements. Each student has a personalized login allowing access via web interface. Lord's schedule is aggregated and populated into a monthly calendar so he can quickly see which assignments are due on which days.

Lord would like to have more teachers follow the example of his history instructor.

"We do our essays on a web site called Noodle Tools," he said. "BAasically, it's an online bibliography. You click a note card and you take your notes on that. Then you can drag the note cards into an outline for your essay. And then you type the essay right in there.

"Along the way the teacher says, 'Everybody, submit your projects right now.' And then you submit your project to the drop box; he looks at it to check up on where you are, and he can give you a grade."

This methodology offers benefits over a paper version of the same process.

"I think it's a lot easier to stay organized and it also gives you an overview of where you are," Lord said.

He'd also like to see the school move beyond the e-mail-only communication platform currently in place.

"I'm a big fan of Google Docs and Google Sites and Gmail," Lord said. "It's a lot easier to use and more up to date."

But with so much reliance on cloud and social media tools, what about online safety?

According to Lord, students are well versed in the rules. "Before we got the iPads, we were handed a safety code that we had to sign,” he said. “Then there's also the school's honor code, which is a big book that you have to sign at the beginning of the year. That includes a whole technology section on internet safety."

He also believes the perception that there is a serious risk to privacy posed by cloud computing comes down to a generational divide.

"I think adults don't put a lot of trust in youth, and I think they're kind of shying away from the use of technology," Lord says. "There are bad things that happen on the internet…but I think most of our generation is responsible enough to use it the correct way, especially with school.

I think it's important that your generation puts more trust in us with the use of technology."

About the Author

Margo Pierce is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.

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