Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

“What is the cloud?”

… was the question I was asked by a co-worker the other day in the lunchroom. We have all seen the Microsoft ads where people go “to the cloud” and it magically fixes all of their problems involving computers.

“The cloud” refers to “cloud computing,” a term created to describe how more and more of our actual computing occurs on the internet and how the internet—not our hard drives—seems to be where most of our stuff now exists.

For me, the best example is email. Rather than having all of your email messages stored on your computer (as they used to be), most are now stored on a server, if you work for a school, most likely this server is a big computer locked in a back closet somewhere. Having your mail stored on a secure, well-backed-up server is a lot safer than storing on your hard drive since the chances are slim that somebody will accidentally delete your email, like I once did to a client in college. To this man, I say: I AM SO, SO, SORRY!

But cloud computing takes this a step further. Rather than storing those files on a server in a back closet, it stores those files on a server out in California or any one of the thousands of ‘server farms’ that are owned by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and others. And now, instead of needing to be in front of your computer to check your email, you can access it from any computer with internet. Tah-dah! You were on the cloud without knowing it.

As the years have gone by, more and more is computing has been done on the internet, existing not in one central location but on the ambiguous, ethereal internet “cloud.” For example, one of my favorite sites for teaching kids about digital cameras is Picnik, a free site with some premium features; it serves as a basic photo-editor. Kids can plug in their cameras into any computer and crop, brighten and red-eye correct to their hearts content without having to worry about file management issues, losing their photos, or mucking around in a program like Photoshop. Picnik is one of those sites that does one thing—basic photo editing—and does it well. And all of the computing power behind it, all of the processing and rendering that used to be such a drain on a computer, happens thousands of miles away on a server farm.


Fun with Picnick.

With the internet taking the weight off of your computer’s processor, you can now do more and more with a basic device with an internet connection—hence the rise in netbooks and tablets and smartphones. It’s not that the phones are all that smart; they just happen to be connected to a network of great devices.

I would take the time to go over some of the really great things to come to education from cloud computing, but honestly, I find it really overwhelming. There is just so much of it that I could spend hours of my day poring over these sites. Unfortunately, I still have a class to teach; they are showing up in about 15 minutes and I have to have their multiplication practice ready for when they get back, so I’ll have to ask my readers to share anything that they use that falls into the category of “cloud” computing, and share some more of my solutions in future posts.


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