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New Consortium Will Work To Calibrate Goals of Schools, Vendors in Cloud

Seeking to preempt the usual, often inevitable disconnect between vendors and customers that arises in emerging markets, nonprofit Visions for Education has launched eduCloud, a consortium of educators, administrators, and representatives of manufacturers and service providers aimed at creating standards in cloud computing for education that will simplify the landscape while meeting the needs and goals of all interested parties.

Bruce Wilcox, founding chair of eduCloud and vice president of blended learning for Classlink, had previously been involved with Project Inkwell, a similar organization aimed at helping standardize computing devices and their applications for use in educational environments. With eduCloud as with Project Inkwell, he explained, the ultimate goal is a set of standards that will allow vendors to bring educational environments the services, methods, components that will be most effective. In this case, the focal point, or service, is the "cloud" environment as it serves educational environments, which the group identifies as hosted platforms "with suitable scalability, redundancy, and capacity to support a teaching and learning environment where every learner and educator has always-on, real-time access to personal and digital learning technology."

"I think education has a tendency to implement a unique flavor every time, in terms of implementation of instructional technology, as you go from district to district, each implementation model, each technology tool is different, and you end up with 15,000 different solutions," Wilcox elaborated, noting that such disparity makes it very difficult for a new market to emerge, given the inability of vendors to mass produce and market their products according to uniform customer needs. "Our goal is to avoid each implementation of cloud-based computing as being unique, and try to drive some standardization around both technology architecture and implementation models to support it."

Launched Feb. 1, the consortium is up and running but still in its very early stages and is welcoming anyone interested in participating as a representative of either the education or vendor side. Public sector membership is free of charge because, explained Wilcox, educators and administrators are "essential to the dialogue, because their work informs the functional requirements of the consortium." Vendor membership involves dues, since manufacturers and service providers will ultimately reap the financial benefits of knowing their potential market far better as a result of input from educators and colleagues. Vendor dues will provide the primary source of funding for the consortium.

Members of both types have the same obligation, namely to attend quarterly meetings, join subcommittees, and contribute to the crafting of guidance documents, which will ultimately be the product the consortium makes available to the industry at large.

"Participants of the school systems all found it so compelling to be informing the development of products," said Wilcox, "rather than the way it's worked historically with K-12, which is that the vendor builds the product in isolation, then comes to the school system and asks, 'Will you buy it?'" Often this approach leads to market-wide dissatisfaction, said Wilcox, among the educators and administrators who believe the vendors are not responsive to their needs, and among the vendors who are continually fielding complaints and making upgrades.

"If you have a school system that's actually refining the product requirements, and you have a wide array of vendors that then take those requirements and build better products, you've done a service to the school system, to the vendor community, and ultimately to the student who gets the better experience." He identified eduCloud's facilitation of the flow of such information as the primary function of the consortium.

Wilcox and his team began to spread the word about the consortium and its goals in January, and enthusiasm for it has built up rapidly. "[Maine's] children have been doing personalized and digital learning for nearly 10 years now," said Angus King, former governor of Maine (1995-2003) and currently a distinguished lecturer at Bowdoin College. "We're excited that eduCloud is being formed to accelerate digital learning, and I offer the consortium my enthusiastic support."

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.

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