I currently use cloud based tools in my classes, specifically the course management software Moodle and the online assessment tool SAM2010, but these tools are mainly for information dissemination and individual assignments. I have considered, but never implemented, using collaborative cloud based tools in my classes. The article I found about the benefits and drawbacks of integrating cloud computing into a classroom by Blue and Tirotta (2011) has provided me with some new insights in terms of the roles I can play as an adult educator. The study was conducted among pre-service teachers with a broad range of technological abilities at a private university in the United States. I teach microcomputer applications courses for students of all ages, cultures, and ethnicities so I found the groups of students analyzed in this study were comparable to mine. The article suggests many techniques related to increasing students’ comfort levels with new technology and engaging experienced technology users. I will discuss how some of these techniques can assist me in introducing collaborative software to my courses.
In regards to students who feel anxiety using technology, Blue and Tirotta (2011, p. 37) suggest keeping activities simple, open-ended, and meaningful. For the introductory class for my microcomputer applications course, I guide students through the process of creating folders, subfolders, and the creation of simple files to place in these folders. I could take this concept further by introducing the cloud based tool Dropbox, which allows for file storage and sharing online. The class could sign up for an account and upload their folder to the website, which is a simple procedure I would demonstrate to them first. The benefits of file sharing could then be shown by requesting students to share their folder with a classmate. This software is meaningful to the students as they would no longer be required to carry USB drives with them and could share files more efficiently with each other for group projects. More experienced students could install Dropbox on their laptops, tablets, or smartphones and observe the ease of access to their files using multiple devices.
For computer literate students, it is suggested by Blue and Tirotta (2011, p. 37) to introduce unknown techniques using the technology to expand their knowledge. An idea for introducing blogs in my management information systems classes comes to mind inspired by both this article and the BC Provincial Instructor Diploma course PIDP 3100. Blue and Tirotta mention that “one faculty member simply set up the blog [for the class] and asked students to write their thoughts and to comment on the thoughts of others about class discussions and assigned readings at least once per week” (2011, p. 33). Logging in to the shared blog, creating a new post, and submitting their thoughts would be a simple activity designed for less experienced students. For the more advanced students, I would further instruct them to create their own blog, explore the different customizations available, and place links between their personal blog and the class shared blog. These students could be taken even further into the technical side of blogs by examining source code and various plug-ins that are available.
It is important that we do not forget about privacy issues related to student information. Many of these cloud computing services have their servers located in the United States. It is a violation of the BC Privacy Act to store confidential student information on servers located outside of Canada. Care must be taken not to store student identification numbers using these services, as a breach of information on a third-party server could result in identity theft for the students. In the event that an instructor wanted to store student identification numbers on a server outside of Canada, consent forms would have to be signed by each student.
Blue, E., & Tirotta, R. (2011). The benefits & drawbacks of integrating cloud computing and interactive whiteboards in teacher preparation. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 55(3), 31-39.