Code libraries, open-source software, and Web forums are just a few of the cloud resources that students can use to further their personal IT education. Instructors teaching these would-be student technicians in their schools not only see these as important teaching tools, but also the direction teaching needs to move in order for a curriculum to be relevant. (See “Helping Others to Help Oneself” in the Oct. T.H.E. Journal). Sylvia Martinez, president of Generation of Youth and Educators Succeeding (Generation YES) says her program teaches students to access and use cloud resources responsibly in order for them to become good digital citizens.
“Students learn to be more independent in solving problems, even if that means they need to communicate with experts at a distance,” Martinez said. “All this is possible now, meaning that schools do not have to rely on one person being the ‘tech guru’ and waiting for them to solve problems.
According to Martinez, open source resources--and the people who support them--are often willing to help students, provided that students are first shown how to access those resources. "Part of what we teach students is how to find these communities and resources.”
It's not just locating resources that can confound students. Sometimes just finding each other is a challenge for students in tech-support positions, because of the impracticalities of making a long-distance to call to someone in another state or a long drive to talk with a fellow student a few counties over who’s really good at fixing the problem you’re having.
This is why MOUSE, another student tech training program, offers a cloud-based student forum for program participants. Communications director Susan Schwartz said students use the MOUSE Squad Website to access the online forum, a blog, which creates an “opportunity to connect youth that share common interests and passions around technology.” The program also developed a tool, called Case Tracker, specifically for sharing technical expertise among peers when trying to solve a technology issue that comes up. Knowledge Base is a cloud database of technology support materials that is also available to all MOUSE Squads.
“In CaseTracker, students can use threaded discussions to see how the process of solving problems evolves as a result of trial and error,” Schwartz said. “Knowledge Base [is] a centralized source of information about help desk operations, troubleshooting, and tech skills.
“We use the cloud to connect young people across our national network--not just locally or regionally--but as a bridge to connect young people across the country.”
Both MOUSE and Generation YES offer a variety of resources via the cloud: lesson plans, special projects, and individualized certifications, to name a few. There is a positive environmental impact in bypassing printed materials, but the time savings and increased communication are what really makes the cloud indispensable for educators as well as students, according to Debbie Kovesdy, a media specialist and GenYES advisor at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix.
Kovesdy delivers professional development training through digital instruction to teachers in all 46 schools in the Paradise Valley School District via the cloud. She also offers technical resources that will help educators incorporate technology into their lesson plans.
“Our IT Director set up a private domain with Google,” Kovesdy said. "Because it is our domain, our district can control its use, or misuse, as needed. Students [and] teachers can create websites and manage who sees them. Documents can be shared with certain specs.”
Kovesdy teaches three technology classes a day using the GenYES curriculum. She uses the cloud to teach and she expects her students to be cloud-savvy users when it comes to doing their work.
“I teach entirely from a website. ‘Handouts’ are accessed on this site,” she said. “I simply put a short link on their assignment calendar (or on the [message] board if the day is on the fly), and kids access the site and do the assignment."
Recently, Kovesdy was looking at buying several dozen new tablets for her campus, but hadn't decided on which ones. In the end, she decided to pass the task of figuring out the most cost-effective solution on to her students. The lesson, called Purchase Project, was completed digitally and turned in via the shared Google Drive. Students researched devices, computing power, and costs and then filed a report. A filter sent the completed assignments to Kovesdy’s document folder. After she graded them, she sent them back to the students via their private e-mail account, also created and controlled by the school via the Google-based Website.
Each of Kovesday’s students also builds his or her own website as a place to download and share technology-based projects.
"Websites are the medium to house large digital files. This is the place I can access their work and grade. And best of all, their high school tech career is documented," Kovesday said. “In their senior year we clean up the sites, add a resume, move it to Gmail, and they have a digital portfolio of how cool they are. This is monumental. Graduating kids have gotten jobs, advanced in college circles, and networked successfully with these sites.”
Student technicians are using tablet computers, smartphones, and other devices to bring technology into the classroom. When they help a teacher build a for a specific lesson, or teach a class how to set up and use a blog instead of a paper notebook, the tech-savvy kids are showing how the cloud enriches education. And it’s time for educators to learn that very important lesson, according to Martinez.
“Cloud computing is here to stay,” she said. “It's not something schools can ignore or suppress just because they don't want to deal with the issues it raises. Building a more open, collaborative learning community means dealing with these new ideas.”