Cloud computing, much like Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), is a major “enabling” resource for educational evolution here at Harrisburg Academy.  Many of the newest teaching methods with a basis in differentiated learning involve the use of various creative forms of technology to help foster critical thinking.

Creative uses of computers are not new.  Since computers were first available to our students in 1997, teachers have asked students to write papers, make charts and graphs, and design the occasional PowerPoint presentation, tasks that didn’t always help the full group understand the material. In the last five years, however, rich media applications have emerged that extend student and teacher possibilities for touching multiple senses and helping to bring many differentiated learning concepts to reality.

Until a few years ago, it was sufficient to provide simple, local file storage for students to support the papers and charts they were required to create.  Unfortunately, our local file storage facility started looking woefully inadequate as rich media applications began to appear, students began to need offsite access to their files, and creative project collaboration between students outside of the classroom became the norm.  Fortunately, two big players stepped up with solutions: Google Docs and MS Live @ Edu.   Google Docs creates a collaborative work environment where users can save a document, instantly share it with other users, and edit it at the same time.  I think this was the critical point where people started to understand what the term “In the Cloud” meant.  Just the ability to store something on the internet, gain access to it — at any time, from anywhere, and with any machine — and control shared access to it without enlisting IT department help was a revolutionary concept in itself.

The Harrisburg Academy Tech Team followed these developments, but was not yet ready to commit to a change.  Since 1997, Microsoft Office has been viewed as the industry standard, and we thought a complete switch to Google Docs was too big of a change too soon.  But in the spring of 2010, Microsoft released “MS Live @ EDU.”  This combined the internet-based file storage and sharing capabilities of Google Docs with a rudimentary web-based email system and MS Office Suite.  I tested the product throughout the summer of 2010 and found that although the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint web apps were a bit rough around the edges, they were a suitable option.  There was little not to like.

When school started his past fall, every student was given a free MS Live @ EDU account with 25GB of storage in the cloud (SkyDrive), an increase from their former paltry 100MB on our server.  Our students now have universal access to and control of their data.  Furthermore, this has far more potential to support the storage needs of the new, rich content-creation apps that we see being developed and released every day.

Without the MS Live @ EDU cloud environment, our BYOT program would have been much more difficult to implement.  It really helped us maintain our philosophy of anytime, anywhere, any machine student computing.  I look forward to seeing increased capabilities with the new Microsoft Windows 8 Operating System and its enhanced integration with MS Live @ EDU.