Beyond the Known Universe

Understanding the hybrid cloud: an education process. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Stern 

The cloud computing landscape of 2017 will increasingly be dominated by platform and database services supporting hybrid infrastructures, according to study conducted by IDG Connect on behalf of Oracle.  According to the study, organisations are more likely to choose hybrid cloud when considering their next steps in cloud computing. Deploying more hybrid cloud services (36 percent) was selected ahead of private (32 percent) and public cloud (17 percent) services.

– The Financial Times (Jan. 22, 2015)

CREDIT NASAIT specialists within schools and colleges are often in an unenviable position.  They need to serve as tech emissaries to their institutions without necessarily letting on just how obtuse the IT world has become. Case in point is the matter of the so-called “hybrid cloud.”  As The Financial Times reports, there’s finally some clarity around that subject. Or is there?  The Oracle findings strike me as problematic – even though I believe hybrid is generally the way to go.  It’s just that the term “hybrid cloud” has been stripped of any real meaning.  The truth is, everything is hybrid now.  It’s akin to having a conversation about breathing oxygen.

Bottom line: whatever your school’s technological sophistication, you can’t not be in the cloud these days. 

Understand first that there’s absolutely nothing new about the hybrid cloud.  You’d think that accepting that fundamental fact would be self-evident, but unfortunately it’s not – and it’s especially vexing when others within academic setting (say, the business office or someone in governance) begin to read about/pick up IT lingo. The terminology is misleading and has long since ceased to describe anything specific. Educational institutions have been shifting workload to the Internet virtually forever, no pun intended. Public compute space and private compute space were coexisting when Zuckerberg was watching Sesame Street. Compute on-premises, store off-premises – we’ve all been there and done that.

Way back when the term “ASP” (as in “Application Service Provider”) was a fresh addition to the lexicon, “hybrid” did indeed mean something quite specific. The idea was that virtual machines were under a school’s physical control in a data center – that’s where applications were hosted. And that same school might then contract with a service provider – MSP, ASP, CSP, choose your mnemonic – to put some of that workload in the provider’s virtual environment. In other words, schools and colleges built their own infrastructure and placed some applications in another virtual infrastructure – hence, “hybrid.” IT mavens would go to VMware or HP, build a virtual data center, and tie the two things together with an API.  Done.

Somewhere along the way, as the cloud expanded beyond the known universe, something (e.g., the true concept of hybrid) got lost in translation.  Today, some of your workload is under your control and some outside of your control – that’s just painfully obvious.  From that perspective, the hybrid cloud is ubiquitous, even pervasive, right now.  The majority of educational institutions rely on servers and computers, and some data resides on various desktops; some is stored with Apple or Dropbox or Microsoft, and some organizations have embraced SaaS and virtualization.

Now, here’s where the jargon becomes perilously close to gibberish.  Strictly speaking, very few educational institutions are actually building virtual environments on their own, never mind their size.  Creating that piece is exceedingly hard to do.  So, no one is doing hybrid by the book – and loosely speaking, everyone is doing it.  Virtualization has taken off; within that world, users are renting space rather than buying virtual equipment themselves – and what they’re getting in return is, yes, the hybrid cloud.  Bottom line: whatever your school’s technological sophistication, you can’t not be in the cloud these days.  Slapping a term like “hybrid” is just a faddish way to package a long-established status quo.

What difference does all of this make?  Quite a lot, since once again the vendor community appears to be choosing obfuscation (or, charitably, empty buzzwords) over clarity.  Keeping things murky may sell goods and services, but it does very little for schools and colleges.  If you’re an IT decision-maker for a chain of charter schools, you can’t be fooled (and you certainly can’t afford to be fooled).  And if you’re a user, you need to separate the trendy from the strategic.

The right question isn’t, “Should I go on or off premises?  Should I opt for the hybrid cloud, the public cloud, or a private cloud?”  The smart question is, “what’s strategically best for my institution?”  When you frame the query in that manner, you can determine where to place your compute power, and you begin to gain control over the dynamic.  Want to reduce costs?  Increase efficiencies?  Achieve some other objective?

First, decide what your metrics are and how they serve your school – then select the technology.  Go back to basics.  Pick the tool that works.  Otherwise, the tail wags the dog.

Or worse.  The dog ends up chasing its tail.

Adam Stern is founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual ( in Los Angeles.

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Trends | Turning the Page Digital

CREDIT cK-12 chatThe tide is turning on the $8 billion textbook market that has had its hold on budget-strapped schools. Increasing numbers of schools and districts are turning to digital content alternatives to open up new ways of teaching and put their tight budgets to better use. As a result, Google is becoming the default student login in the classroom and as of the third quarter of 2014, Chromebooks have displaced iPads as the most popular new devices shipping to U.S. schools. To further the reach of Google Classroom, Google is partnering with companies such as the non-profit CK-12 Foundation, which is enabling CK-12’s free, high-quality STEM content and tools to easily be shared to any Google Classroom account for the first time with the click of a button. According to Education SuperHighway, today 63 percent of schools do not have enough bandwidth to meet the current needs for digital learning and 99 percent do not have the bandwidth necessary over the next five years. With the money saved collectively with free options such as Google Classroom and CK-12, schools can use their resources more effectively and invest more in other priorities such as infrastructure and high-speed broadband for the classroom. Molly Mackinlay, Associate Product Manager at Google Classroom, says, “We’re excited that CK-12, one of the Classroom share button launch partners, is making it even easier for teachers to share open educational materials to their Classroom classes.” Learn more.

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Do You Listen to Your Students?

Expanding the role of students in technology decision-making at the school and district level.

GUEST COLUMN | by Theresa Soares and Jon Phillips

CREDIT Dell Youth Innovation 3If ever there was a generational divide between faculty and students, it has never been greater than now. Rather than a challenge to be overcome, this presents a phenomenal opportunity to change the role of students in traditional education institutions and empower them to take a more active role in their learning. It has been widely stated that many students in school today will work in jobs that do not yet exist. While districts nationwide are striving to meet the challenge of preparing tomorrow’s workforce with century-old models of education, consensus is building that we must find a way to bring about substantive changes. The use of technology in the classroom holds much promise to bring about that change but we’ve failed to leverage it to its full potential, maybe we need a new perspective?

If ever there was a generational divide between faculty and students, it has never been greater than now.

As ultimate end-users of technology in the classroom, students possess a unique understanding of our modern learning environments and certainly have their own opinions for how technology can best support their learning experiences. But have you ever asked them? We hope to make a case for dramatically expanding the role of students in technology decision-making at the school and district level.

Why Students?

We should think about students with their boundless energy, potential to innovate and capacity to explore, as advisers and highly influential members of our community. Who else do other students most admire and imitate if not their peers? Students have a way of seeing, listening and observing that is drastically different from any administrator’s. Their day-to-day experiences, their body chemistry and brain development are on an entirely different level. This new perspective, when coupled with students’ deep familiarity and passion for technology could help administrators make better technology decisions and lead to better outcomes for students, faculty and administrators alike. Research shows that when students are empowered to take a more active role in their education, they perform better.

Why Technology?

Technology provides students with both learning opportunities within the classroom through traditional skills-based curriculum, and it has the opportunity to open doors to new experiences outside of the classroom. When we talk about student engagement and technology, of course we visualize students interacting with tablets or laptops in a blended learning environment. By focusing on this model, we limit ourselves to only thinking about student engagement with technology as being between the student and the device. And it’s so much more than that.

Specifically if you look at students who have learning challenges or those who have individualized education plans (IEPs), they rely extensively on assistive technology to help them read and understand materials. As a former administrator, Jon often discusses his interest in investigating how technological capabilities could help not just these students but all students. For example, the ability to have a device help read text aloud for a student who is struggling to learn reading skills.

New Forms of Student Engagement

It is also important to give students the technical tools to investigate and encourage them to explore beyond the curriculum. The internet provides endless opportunities for students to explore new interests and pursue independent investigations and self-directed learning. It is also amazing to see how students are seizing opportunities for engagement through social media and online advocacy. Student governments on campus are no longer the only place where young people are gathering to discuss solutions to problems in their communities.

New Paths to College and Careers

There are many examples of schools, districts, nonprofit organizations and multinational companies that have found innovative ways to incorporate the student perspective into their technology programs and decision making.

When Theresa was in high school, there was no computer science curriculum yet she taught herself how to build a computer through the power of online videos and forums. Eventually, her curiosity led her to overclock and tweak the voltages of the components and the experience helped her get a job as a research assistant with the Department of the Navy while she was still in high school. Exposure to technology and giving students the opportunity to explore their interests can yield some amazing outcomes.

Leyden High School District 212 and Morton High School District both started Tech Support Internship (TSI) programs that provide experiential learning opportunities for participating students and help schools support their 1:1 computing initiatives. Students play an active role in supporting the districts’ deployment of Dell Chromebook 11 laptops, performing maintenance, customer support and even visiting classrooms to help with set-up of printers, projector units and SMART Boards. It’s a “choose your own adventure” curriculum with six or seven different pathways – one of them might be certification. “The students were tremendous. They responded far better than we ever believed that they could or would,” said Weinert. “In some cases, we’ve had students graduate from Leyden, from TSI, and go directly into the workforce and get fantastic full-time jobs. We just had a student last year graduate and get hired by a pharmaceutical company to run their help desk, and they’re paying for his college education.”

You Can Join Them

Engaging students in your district’s technology challenges could yield unexpected outcomes. As an exercise, imagine some of their responses to questions like, “Who provides the technology we purchase?” “Which products and services fit my school’s needs?” “How do we address the challenges of professional development or better linking curriculum and technology?” If a technology committee exists at your school, consider having one or two students serve in an equitable capacity on that committee. We think you’ll be delighted in the perspective and voice that they bring to the discussion.

Jon Phillips is the managing director of Worldwide Education Strategy at Dell. Theresa Soares is a Junior at Mills College and a member of Dell’s Youth Innovation Advisors. Dell founded its inaugural cohort of Youth Innovation Advisors, partnering with the student-run nonprofit organization Student Voice to help formulate the strategy behind its engagement program.

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Code Responsibly

Help protect your kids by teaching them four critical lessons.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gary Davis

CREDIT Intel Security imageSoftware is eating the world, as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen famously wrote, and as a result, having the ability to produce software by writing code has become a valuable skill. It opens up access to good jobs and financial security, and some would even say coding will be akin to literacy within a couple of decades. In other words, those who can’t code will be at a disadvantage when they look for a job. Even if you think that outcome seems unlikely, coding is clearly a skill that will be useful for many reasons and one that parents should help their children to explore. The good news is that it’s often not a hard sell. According to Intel Security’s Realities of Cyber Parenting Study, 60 percent of children between 8 and 16 are interested in learning to code for new websites and apps, with 31 percent of them already learning the skill in school.

Coding is a critical skill for success in the modern economy, and you should absolutely encourage your children to develop their programming abilities, especially if they demonstrate an aptitude for it.

The research also uncovered that only 12 percent of parents surveyed are worried that these skills might be used for unlawful purposes. That number really ought to be higher. Parents should be just as mindful of where and how children are applying their coding skills as they are of their social media usage and who they’re talking to online.

The primary risk for children who code is that they’ll get in over their heads and do something illegal without really intending to. It’s not common, but it does happen.  Take the case in New York City earlier this year, when a high school junior hacked into his school’s secure system and changed his grades. While he may have thought he was doing something to help better his future, instead he was charged as an adult with forgery, computer trespass, unauthorized use of a computer and other crimes.

The reality is, children don’t even need to know how to program to find trouble in the dark corners of the Web. It only takes an interest in hacking, since it’s possible to find or buy code online that’s capable of piercing vulnerable systems. You can go from browsing Facebook, where you find an article about hacking, to committing a crime in an hour or two.

With this in mind, it’s important for parents to make their techy children aware that actions they take online with innocent intentions might, in some limited circumstances, be construed as malicious. Alone in their rooms in front of a computer screen, a practical joke might seem harmless. But a couple of hours of tinkering with code could compromise their futures. In other words, you don’t have to be intentionally committing a cybercrime to cross a line, so it’s important to be actively considering the implications of your online behavior.

Here are four lessons to help set your children on the right path:

Write well-documented code. Keep in mind that comments inside code serve a specific utility: to help the next programmer who comes along to understand what a complex piece of code does. On its face, this has nothing to do with promoting ethical behavior, but by teaching kids to be deliberate and methodical in their coding process, you’ll hopefully be encouraging them to be thoughtful about what they’re creating and what it can unleash, if not handled properly.

Never build backdoors into your code. Essentially an undocumented way of gaining access to a program, service or an entire system, backdoors are a major security risk. By creating them to intentionally access private information or allow other people to circumvent security authentication, you can give rise to a host of harmful activities, like spam or malware attacks. So it’s important to make kids understand that there are adverse consequences to building backdoors that they may not be thinking about.

Don’t be lured by the dark side. There’s a name for young, largely untrained black hat hackers who use scripts developed by more sophisticated coders to make mischief: “script kiddies” (also known as skiddies, skids, script bunnies and script kitties.) They find programs to deploy in attacks on weak systems and can do some real damage; schools and local law enforcement agencies are among their common targets. Usually they’re just looking to show off and make a name for themselves. So make sure your child understands that malicious behavior has legal implications, and it likely won’t be written off as a cute prank.

Use your powers for good. If your kid is a skilled coder and wants a challenge, he or she can seek out companies that hire white hat hackers to suss out security flaws. For example, Tesla Motors has hired hackers to improve security in its cars, and it’s certainly not alone. Many large tech companies have need of these services, especially after a major software release, when hackers with malicious intentions are also poking around to find weaknesses.

To come back to my initial point, coding is a critical skill for success in the modern economy, and you should absolutely encourage your children to develop their programming abilities, especially if they demonstrate an aptitude for it. Overall, the most important thing you can do to ensure your children are coding responsibly is to have frequent conversations with them about what they’re working on and make sure they’re thinking through how their behavior affects others.

Gary Davis is chief consumer security evangelist at Intel Security. Through a consumer lens, he works closely with internal teams to drive strategic alignment of products with the needs of the security space. Gary also oversees Intel Security online safety education to educate businesses and consumers by distilling complex security topics into easily understandable and actionable advice. Find him on Twitter @garyjdavis or check out his blog here.


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Flipped and Tracking

Flash progress comparisons help teachers bolster and customize student learning.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Tony Glockler

CREDIT SolidProfessorTeachers have incredible amounts of data and information to juggle. Keeping track of grades, assignments, and engagement is a challenge that teachers gracefully overcome each day. With more teachers embracing next-gen learning and moving to a flipped classroom model, this challenge becomes even more daunting. The flipped classroom model, where students view video lectures and complete hands-on exercises and quizzes as homework, allows educators to guide interactive projects during class time. The benefit of this model is the ability to demonstrate real-world applications and engage students with interactive projects.

Individual tracking helps educators ensure achievement for every student by giving real-time visibility into progress.

However, the added challenge of the flipped classroom model is that foundational knowledge is being learned outside of the classroom, so teachers lose direct visibility into student progress.

In a traditional classroom, teachers can scan their class to see the nods of understanding during key points. With a flipped classroom model, teachers need integrated tracking tools to measure engagement and retention.

Teachers who embrace technology to help them flip their classroom are also embracing technology to help them track and measure their students’ progress. Next-gen online learning platforms now provide at-a-glance visibility into student learning, tracking both engagement (watching the lectures) and retention (quizzes and assessments). The digital revolution in education is helping educators rethink how they track their students and classes by seamlessly integrating technology and independent learning with face-to-face interaction and collaboration.

Every class has a spectrum of learning speeds and styles. An advantage of a flipped classroom is that students have the opportunity to go over lectures as many times as they need without slowing down the pace of the class for other students. Individual tracking helps educators ensure achievement for every student by giving real-time visibility into progress.

If a student is struggling on a particular area of the course and could use additional help or resources, teachers can easily identify the gap in learning before the student gets left behind. Or, if a student is flying through the course topics, teachers are able to suggest additional opportunities to deepen their understanding.

Using technology to customize a student’s education frees teachers from a “one size fits all” classroom to a targeted learning experience that identifies students’ needs. Over time, student performance data can also help educators fine-tune their curriculum. Students are more engaged with a personalized learning experience and enjoy tracking their own progress, as well.

With digital tools, students become more active participants in their own education. Immediate feedback motivates students and pushes them to improve. Next-gen learning allows new approaches to assessing student progress that benefits both teachers and students.

Tony Glockler is the co-founder of SolidProfessor, an online learning company specializing in software applications used in engineering and design. His passion is combining the best of instructional design and technology to help engineers and designers become more effective. He has helped students and design teams keep up with their rapidly evolving software tools with an ongoing, guided learning experience.

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