Predicting the future is easy. It’s trying to figure what’s going on now that’s hard. - Fritz Dresser
2010 was the year the cloud's impact became clear, permanent and more far-reaching than this slow-thinker had previously realized. Few things we did in my school district have not been in some way cloud-related - and those projects on the horizon look to be as well. My own personal technology use for both work and leisure has changed significantly this year due to ubiquitous cloud access and the devices meant to take advantage of it.
Like we now look back and wonder what life was like before there were PCs, before there was the Internet, before there was the social network, I'm confident we will look back trying to remember what storing information, media, computer programs and files locally and physically must have involved.
How DID we ever manage?
Manifestations at school
Implementing GoogleApps for Education for the staff about a year ago and for the students last fall was a huge jump to the cloud for our district. Our dependence on our own local file servers is lessening each year. Personal file storage and applications took the jump this year, joining our hosted web server, hosted IEP program, and hosted finance and HR systems. Our student information system is about the only big ticket item for which we maintain an in-house server - and that program uses a web browser interface. For both convenience and economy, the move to the cloud will continue as a primary goal for our department.
Our district also implemented a new Cisco VOIP telephone system - replacing over 1200 handsets along with re-configuring and upgrading our WAN and building LANs. The management, of course, is hosted off site. We upgraded our Circ/Cat Plus Follett library system to Destiny - which is hosted by a regional data center.
A major question for all technology implementation projects is now "Is your solution hosted?"
Although I bought one of the first Kindles in 2008, this was the year I read almost exclusively e-books on both the Kindle 3 and the iPad. For the past few months, I have been actually resenting having to purchase print books and have been replacing, when possible, my old paper-bound favorites with their digital cousins. Not only do I not want to worry about having access to them, but I want access anytime, anywhere.
I've stopped buying DVDs. The pace of physical discs slipping through my mail has slowed considerably as Netfix directly streams more of my favorites to the new LED television set that rivals the movie theater's picture and sound - and without the $10 popcorn and talking morons sitting behind you. (So yes, I've been going to few movies in the theater as well.)
This has also been the year that I've used GoogleDocs both at work and for my professional writing more than I have used Word. I've been sharing my articles with my coworkers and my editors on-line instead of attaching them to e-mails. I've opened up draft copies of the book I am writing to colleagues for suggestions. And I've taken to keeping both work and personal documents more online than off. My books, my photos, my theater tickets, my airline tickets, and my bank accounts all are stored in the cloud.
My new favorite applications have become DropBox and Evernote. Since the number of computing devices I'm using is growing (MacBook Air, iPad, iPod, desktop at work). Flash drives now seem so, I don't know, 2009-ish.
My wimpy prediction is that 2010 will be viewed historically as the pivotal year technology departments and personnel roles changed direction and mission. For both technology directors and technicians, the move to the cloud is having a profound effect that will only accelerate. This is the beginning of the end for school-supplied, school-controlled computer access. - of the tech department's primary task of keeping individual work stations configured and running and the end of the futile attempt to keeps kids away from their own technologies while they are in school. (Didn't everyone always have a smartphone and use the Facebook app to communicate all day long?) Kids really are little cyborgs anymore. Just one of the many horses that we are realizing are "out of the barn."
For libraries, 2010 will be seen as the last time that buying any reference materials in print made sense at all. The year doused any smoldering embers of the "library as warehouse" mentality, with surviving libraries being the place where you "do" instead of where you "get" things. This is the year that I've truly realized that libraries and librarians that are not changing really will go away - that economics really will trump traditional and sentimentality. And it is the first time I believe this is a good thing. We will be a smaller, more flexible and more vital profession as we adopt to cloud-based realities and merge with technology integration specialists into a single profession. For those willing and able to change at any rate.
As this year closes, I also see that relationship of the technology department with other departments will need to change as hardware and software support, maintenance, and even planning take a back seat to the role of enabler of other departmental and district objectives. My sense is that every department will need its own "technology guru" rather than departments depending on the staff of a separate "technology" department. There will need to be a blended subject/technology specialist in every department - curriculum/instruction, assessment, staff development, business, HR, transportation - well every department. Every teacher, like it or not, will be an on-line teacher that will use student-owned devices as transparently as s/he now uses the white board. As long it is needed, my department and I will be focused on providing the infrastructure and coordination required to make sure these folks are successful at their jobs.
As both parent and teacher, I always felt my mission was to work myself out of a job - to help create individuals who have the skills, understandings and values that enabled them to learn, work and live without any help from me. Cloud computing, out-sourcing support, and low-maintenance Internet devices will allow me to adopt a similar mission as the head of a technology department - to create technology users who can focus on their real jobs - teaching and learning and leading - just fine without me.
I'm thinking I may need to renew my teaching license.
And a happy 2011 to all Blue Skunk Readers!