Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

May 14, 2012

Classrooms Ascending to the Cloud: Cloud Computing in Schools

Everybody's heading to the cloud these days. No, I'm not talking about the Ascension. I'm talking about the new home for most of your school files: the cloud.

For teachers, especially those moving to a 1:1 laptop/tablet school environment, this is huge. The cloud will allow us to send and receive files easier, provide immediate feedback on projects, and work on various devices from various places. We won't have to worry about running back into school on the weekends because our work will be in the cloud.

What Is the Cloud?

Wikipedia defines cloud computing as "the delivery of computing and storage capacity as a service to a heterogeneous community of end-recipients."

In other words, your files no longer need to live on your computer. You can access them on your desktop computer at home, your laptop at school, your iPad in the living room, or your iPhone while at the store.

In fact, your computer doesn't even have to live on your computer. With new products like the Google Chromebook, your computer exists on another server, not on the actual device you hold in your hands.

Our ubiquitous access to the Internet makes all this possible.

How Can I Use the Cloud in the Classroom?

As more and more students create presentations, videos, audio files, and other large files, it becomes increasingly difficult to send and receive via email. Cloud computing services (listed below) allow teachers to share folders with students so they can drop their projects into the folders for review. Teachers can then easily open the files and send back comments and feedback via the cloud for the students to collect.

Also, we get many questions about how our PDF Site License eTextbook program (view webinar) works. Schools have used some form of cloud storage to distribute the PDF files to their students. Each school has their own preferences, but many of the options below have been used efficiently without the danger of the files being shared illegally.

Where Can I Get Cloud Storage?

There are a number of services that provide free and paid cloud storage services. Here are the most popular ones among schools.

Dropbox

Probably the most popular cloud storage service is Dropbox. They have seen incredible growth in the last year and their ease of use is hard to beat.

Free Storage: 2GB (plus bonus storage for referrals)
Paid Storage: $100/year for 50GB; $200/year for 100GB
Access: iPhone, iPad, PC, MAC, Linux, Android, Web

Skydrive

I've heard a few teachers share on Twitter and Google+ that students prefer SkyDrive as their favorite cloud storage platform. Though it lacks the integration on mobile devices that most business professionals enjoy, students seem to like it anyway.

Free Storage: 7GB
Paid Storage: $50/year for 100GB; $0.50/GB
Access: Windows, Mac, Web

Google Drive

The newest addition to the cloud storage services is Google Drive, which effectively eliminates Google Docs as a separate product. It is new, but powerful. With so many schools utilizing Google Docs already, Google Drive will become a natural fit in many places. The best part about Google Drive is that it maintains the collaborative editing features of Google Docs with the added ability to store any kind of file and easily access them via your desktop via a synching folder.

Free Storage: 5GB
Paid Storage: $30/year for 25GB; $60/year for 100GB
Access: Windows, Mac, web

iCloud

Apple made some changes recently to their cloud services combining them into one iCloud program, which works in the iOS 5 and X on the iPhone and iPad. There is also integration through iTunes on PCs and Macs. Currently the ability to share folders and edit collaboratively is not available.

Free Storage: 5GB
Paid Storage: 20GB for $40 and 50GB for $100
Access: iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac

Amazon Cloud Drive

Believe it or not, Amazon has a large business of providing digital storage to businesses. They also want a piece of the cloud computing game. For now it is mostly for purchasing MP3s, but don't rule them out for a future flip into general cloud storage.

Free storage: 5 GB
Paid Storage: $1/GB per year over 5GB
Access: Amazon MP3 Uploader/Downloader for music; Cloud play for Android

What's your favorite cloud computing service? What are your students' favorite?

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