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Education in the Cloud: 5 Questions with John Kuglin

Using the cloud to build innovative learning environments

John Kuglin said he sees the cloud as crucial to delivering a platform for 21st century teaching and learning.

John Kuglin has witnessed significant technological changes in his 40 years as an educator, but recent developments in cloud computing have increased his enthusiasm about what's possible for learning, both in the classroom and out. According to Kuglin, cloud computing could serve as the strategic component that has been missing in K-12 technology efforts--a way to deliver more and better services. The technology may answer the question that educators tend to ask after computers are purchased and 1:1 initiatives implemented: "Now what?"

In the last year, Kuglin has focused on the importance of incorporating cloud computing as an affordable and powerful solution for schools. In addition to efforts in Colorado, where he oversaw the complete rebuild of a school district's technology systems, Kuglin is developing an online professional development service with the Colorado Department of Education and of a 10-day program for school administrators and IT staff interested in balancing instruction, assessment, and digital tools and resources.

Kuglin has worked at all levels of the education sector--as a teacher, technology director, and vice president of a digital media production studio. He also served as an associate dean and NASA grant administrator for the University of Montana. In 2006, he returned to K-12 to serve as the CIO for the Eagle County School District in Vail, Colorado.

Kuglin will be speaking at two sessions on cloud computing at the FETC 2011 conference, being held Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, 2011 in Orlando, FL: "Next-Generation Computing: Using the Cloud to Build Innovative Learning Environments," and "Exploring as a 21st Century Educator: Diving into the Cloud for Incredible Learning Opportunities."

THE Journal: Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular in a variety of sectors. Is there anything specific to schools that make it stand out as a particularly useful or appealing tool?

John Kuglin: What makes it stand out for schools--and every sector--is cost. The cloud has a way of delivering more capabilities at a lower price point than what we could deliver before. It also has the ability to give access to, literally, every student in your district with a simple license, and some of it is free or inexpensive.

Second, it is easy to scale cloud applications to any district at a price point that is affordable. That makes it appealing to schools and is also why government and the private sector are moving into cloud computing. The third reason is support. If you read research, like the Horizon Report, specializing in upcoming trends, one focus is cloud computing and another is decentralization of computing. It doesn't make sense for a school district to house all of this on computers that they have to support and replace, when server farms can be tapped into with the necessary backup, scale, uptime, and technical resources.

THE Journal: How quickly is cloud computing being incorporated by school districts, and what are the main factors for this change (or lack of change)?

Kuglin: Budget is going to drive a lot of this, and capability and security also will drive it. We have to decentralize with a vision for the future and stakeholder buy-in from everyone. Those take some time, culturally, to shift, but budget tends to be a catalyst to make things happen faster. Some resist and say they will build their own system internally. I find it difficult to think you could design a system that would be comparable to what is showing up in the private sector. They can't do 21st century learning without these types of tools.

THE Journal: What are the top cloud-based applications and services that are useful to K-12?

Kuglin: I've been working with Galileo School of Math & Science in Colorado Springs, CO. They've been working with five main (cloud) applications: Google Docs, Google Earth, SlideRocket, MindMeister, and SchoolFusion.

The teachers learned those five tools, and once they got a feel for it, then they could start mixing in additional technologies. Before that, they were chasing every technology, which is frustrating. They needed a focal point. That grant was so successful, that the feds funded a second project at another school. They'll have the same thing implemented.

In order to work as a 21st century educator--we still have students and teachers carrying around thumb drives, which are so 1990s--we need storage and storage online. When online, it can sync on all applications. There is a service called Dropbox that is very powerful because of the sharing capability; it syncs with every computer you have, and you can share. That would be a sixth component.

Other resources recommended by Kuglin include: Aviary and Khan Academy.

THE Journal: What are the main limitations, and how serious are the concerns?

Kuglin: There are limitations, and safety is always a concern. We want to be pushing safety in all that we're doing. We want to teach children to be good digital citizens. They'll be the Google-able generation. They don't want to be doing things at 17 or 18 that they'll be disqualified for a job for later because they did something stupid. That's something we need to continue to stress.

One of the criticisms is that it is student data, and others were concerned about this, too, banking, the IRS and others. Schools aren't going to have the money to support it all themselves. I was an IT person for three years; this is what needs to happen to move forward, and budgets will dictate that.

We have to make sure we have enough hand-held devices. Prices are coming down, they are inexpensive--first desktops, laptops, netbooks, and then tablets. Schools have to continue to increase their bandwidth. Many schools get a rebate back on their communication costs through E-Rate, and that E-Rate money needs to be rolled back into the district to purchase additional bandwidth.

The younger generation, they get it--mobile devices. They have access to information; it is another tool that can serve its purpose. Is culture going to be a limitation? The older generation teaches the younger generation, but doesn't always understand how the younger generation thinks. There needs to be a cultural shift, as never before.

THE Journal: What is your main recommendation for schools considering incorporating cloud technology?

Kuglin: If they think they have a technology plan, it needs to be more than that. They need to come up with a joint vision for the future. They should have their administration and instructional people in the room and IT people in the room, and they need to sit down and discuss where the district is going in six months, 12 months, 18 months, five years, and discuss the instructional and IT worlds, which have to come together and support each other. They should sit down and revisit this and not think of it as a tech plan but as a learning plan.

Kuglin will be speaking at the FETC 2011 conference in January and February 2011 in Orlando, FL. Further information can be found on the FETC event site here.