Teaching in the CloudIn simple terms, “in the cloud” or “cloud computing” is remote usage and storage of documents, services or applications that are always backed up, accessible from any computer at any location, and mostly free. As this Infographic: Cloud Computing in the Classroom points out, 27 percent of K-12 and 24 percent of higher education classrooms are cloud-based. Cloud computing is cheaper than buying classroom applications and keeps your technology costs down. And because cloud servers are backed up routinely, you’re less likely to lose those irreplaceable documents, photos and projects by spilling coffee on your laptop, misplacing your iPhone, or   losing power during a storm.

Tools for organizing

Google Docs is one familiar form of cloud computing. Applying Cloud Computing in the Classroom points out that Google Docs is a great resource for students who don’t have access to Microsoft Office applications on their home computers.

Teachers can use cloud computing tools with students

  • Creating signup lists
  • Group research projects
  • Group essays
  • Group presentations
  • Peer editing
  • Publishing announcements about upcoming assignments
  • Brainstorming

Cloud computing tools are also great to collaborate with colleagues

  • Record grades and student feedback anytime, anyplace as long as an internet connection is available.
  • Work on classroom documents or share documents from your home computer.
  •  Create shared lesson plans.

Some caveats of cloud computing

  • Multiple instances of the same document may create conflicts.
  • Documents will be unavailable when the site is down or internet connectivity is lost.
  • There is some concern over security and privacy of online documents.
  • You will usually be required to sign-up or register.
  • Don’t forget your password!

The University of Maryland--University College offers some solutions for these problems

  • Establish ground rules for entry and editing to avoid editing conflicts.
  • Provide basic training in using the software and note its similarities and differences with Microsoft Office products.
  • A locking mechanism may be needed to prevent concurrency problems.
  • Users may need to develop workarounds such as saving specially formatted text as an image and pasting the image into the document.
  • Be careful not to post confidential/sensitive information in Google Docs, particularly when in collaborative mode.

To learn more about the advantages of, and how to use Google Docs for sharing, see Google Docs in Plain English.

Evernote is a tool “for students and teachers to capture notes, save research, collaborate on projects, snap photos of whiteboards, record audio and more.” This tool also syncs with all of your technology tools, including tablets, iPads and smartphones. The resources page includes videos, case studies and a library of how Evernote is being used in the classroom. Ten Tips for Teachers Using Evernote – Education Series suggests using Evernote to:

  • Plan and organize your classroom.
  • Create a standards database.
  • For professional development.
  • Create classroom templates.
  • Prepare for a substitute.
  • Share with your class (create a public notebook).
  • Create a photo whiteboard.
  • Have ready handouts.
  • Simplify grading.
  • Keep your schedule in order.

You’ll want to check out the Getting Started with Evernote guide, because while the program is easy to use, you might miss some of the features such as the ability to drag images. For an explanation of the web clipping and collaboration features, see Evernote for Students: The Ultimate Research Tool. Another great use of the application is explained in How to Create a Portfolio with Evernote.

Diigo is another example of a popular cloud application. Diigo started out as an online bookmarking tool, allowing access for you and others to your bookmarks, and has evolved to become an information management tool. The app includes Diigo Reader, an offline reader that lets you save websites, search and browse your Diigo library, and download files for offline browsing. There’s also a Links for Students page with links to articles, image sources, note taking, essential web tools for students, and more. Delicious (formerly del.icio.us) is another popular online bookmarking tool. You can check out a sample Delicious tag page, download a practice assignment on social bookmarking or watch a video tutorial.

Creativity tools

Animoto is free to educators. This tool for creating videos allows you to choose images (from online sources like Facebook, Flickr, or from your own computer) and music, and share the video via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, email, from the Animoto iPhone app or download to a DVD.

We wrote about Voice Thread in the March 2011 Toolbox column. While Voice Thread is no longer free, a license includes a secure network. See An Educator’s Guide to Voice Thread to get started.

Glogster for educators is a free site (includes ten student accounts) that lets teachers and students create Glogs. Glogs are online multimedia (interactive) posters with text, photos, videos, graphics, sounds, drawings, data attachments and more. Sample uses are:

  • Book reports
  • Research reports
  • Class projects
  • Presentations
  • Digital posters

ReadWriteThink has a free strategy guide for using Glogster in the classroom that includes a tutorial, sample glogs, and a sample glog rubric.

Mapping and timeline tools are described at Six Multimedia Timeline Creation Tools for Students at Free Technology for Teachers. Author Richard Byrne links to Meograph, a map-based and timeline-based story creation tool; Dipity, a timeline creation tool that allows users to incorporate text, images, and videos into each entry on their timelines; myHistro, a timeline builder and map creation tool; and XTimeline, TimeGlider and Time Toast for creating multimedia timelines (and viewing popular timelines others have created).

Just cool tools

Poll Everywhere, a K-12 student response system is free to teachers and students. You can use it from a cellphone, smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet. The website touts it as showing measurable increases in student achievement and engagement, as a simple peer assessment tool, for conducting real-time, in-the-moment formative assessment, to save time with automatic grading and attendance tracking, to encourage honest answers through anonymous response, and to enable students to review responses online. The creative uses of Poll Anywhere really are limited only by your imagination--mock elections, market research, or a sample from the shared polls page--and are easy to set up and implement. Web 2.0 Survey & Polling Tools: A Quick Guide is 100-plus pages of advice and tips on using polls and surveys (like Survey Monkey and Zoomerang) in the classroom.

Zamzar gives you the ability to convert files, download videos, send files and manage files. You can convert files to dozens of formats including JPG and GIF, PowerPoint, PDF, XLS, WMV, and even e-book formats. Another conversion tool is Web2PDF Convert, which allows you to enter a website’s URL and have it converted to a PDF.

My all time favorite cloud tool is Dropbox. Dropbox syncs all of your files – whether they’re created on your desktop, notebook computer, tablet or phone – into one big virtual filing cabinet. You can also share folders or separate files with colleagues for ongoing projects. And you can email documents to your Dropbox. Educational uses are explored at The Complete Dropbox for Educators/Using the Magic Pocket: A Dropbox Guide and Dropbox: A Superb Classroom Tool. You can find out about special apps for Dropbox at 2 Tools to Make File Sharing on Dropbox Faster and Easier. You can also learn How to Share a Dropbox Folder in an iPad Classroom. For other file storage sites see Web 2.0: Cool Tools for Schools.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.