Now that Microsoft is on board with cloud computing, what's holding the rest of us back?

   About five years ago, I lamented to my then-IT coordinator
that I wished there was another alternative to having students use Microsoft
Word (or Appleworks, for that matter) in the school buildings.  The
problem, and it was frequent, was that once a student's class period was over,
they had no idea what to do with unfinished work.  Sure, there was a
school server bank that all students had access to, but then what?  Some
students had flash drives to save to, but then what?  If the student were
to save to the school server, it would remain locked at school, keeping that
student from ever really owning it, and certainly from ever working on it from
home.  If the student saved it to a flash drive, it was frequently the
case that the student did not have the same version of the program on their
home computer, creating a new set of problems.  My colleague, now a district
coordinator, remarked that there were some online versions of word processors
students could use.  We tried a few with little success.  These
online applications were buggy and difficult to navigate.  Several
students sacrificed a bunch of work in the name of experimentation, losing it
to the internet graveyard.  My colleague and I both felt frustrated the
new sites were not helpful. 

    About three years later, the same colleague showed me Google Docs.  He'd been using it for a few months, and had already determined
many of its best features.  We discussed the possibilities for use in
schools, and within a few weeks, I had integrated Google Docs into my daily
routine, and began using it in my classes.  Soon, I had students in some
of my classes using it exclusively for class assignments.  I have found
using Google Docs so powerful I have kept a blog about how it has gone, and
have offered formal or informal training to anyone who dared ask me about
it.  A few colleagues have tried it.  Some have experimented with
it.  Most have shrugged it off as a fad.
    Google currently provides convenient web-based applications
as part of its "Google Apps" suite, which include a word processing
program, a spreadsheet program, a presentation slide show, as well as a
calendar application and email, the search engine giant is slowly building a
following for its all-in-one cluster of web-based applications.  So much
so, it seems, Microsoft has announced plans to build online access into coming
versions of its industry-standard suite of applications known as Microsoft
Office.  In a February 17th article titled "Microsoft Risks Margins
as Office Business fights off Google" on Bloomberg's Businessweek
, Dina Bass explains that Microsoft is "preparing for the biggest
shakeup to the $19 billion Office business in a decade as the company races
Google Inc. to sell Internet-based programs."  Microsoft's plan to
unveil an internet-based office option with coming versions of Office 2010
makes clear what many have speculated before: Google is NOT going away. 
If anything, this may serve as a reason for users who were reluctant to pry
themselves away from their beloved Microsoft apps to finally give it up. 
"If this is the way it's going," people may say, "then why not
go with the one that is already established?"  Regardless of how
Microsoft does in the "cloud-computing" arena, the compelling message
is that even Microsoft is acknowledging that web applications are soon to be
the rule and not the exception.  They understand that there is a shift
happening in computing, and strong, smart companies are apt to evolve with
those changes.
    The impact on education is easy to see.  Both Google
and Microsoft must understand that as schools begin to slowly transition to
these online-based applications, they will be training the next generation to
use them at work, just as schools have prepared recent graduates to use
Microsoft Office applications at work and at home.  Students today already
operate natively in the Web 2.0 / cloud-computing world.  No, they may not
understand those terms any more than most of us do, but they know exactly what
it means to have a majority of their intellectual property living online rather
than on a machine at home or in school.  Students learn to use Google Docs
much more efficiently because it operates similarly to Facebook, Wikipedia, and
YouTube in that it relies on uploading, downloading, and online creation of
material.  As students learn to create content on Google Docs, they find
they intuitively understand how it works, and can readily develop new
approaches to using it on their own. 
    Despite the obvious advantages of mobility and
collaboration, not to mention the ease of use, education is not jumping on the
cloud-based bandwagon as quickly as one might expect.  Is the recent news
from Microsoft enough to validate the cloud-computing concept in the minds of
educators?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  What, if anything would hold
things up?  We all like to imagine the clueless administrators or the
aloof tech coordinators slowing down or holding back innovation like this, but
the real truth may be that the people who have the most to gain from the change
may be the least interested in changing over.  While many teachers across
the country are using Google Apps, whole staff conversions may be difficult.
    In showing Google Docs to colleagues, I have frequently had
a conversation that ends  in the following manner:
    Me:     So, you like it, huh?
    They:   Yeah. Pretty slick.  Very cool
stuff.  Lots of possibilities!
    Me:      So, will you use it?
    They:   Nah.  I doubt it.
   There are many reasons for this sort of passive resistance. In
many aspects, education, regardless whether it is public or private, exists, as
readers of Stephen King's latest novel Under the Dome
might recognize, in a state effectively closed off from the outside
world.  Within the confines of the school walls, progress on anything
tends to be slower than outside them.  Educators are often chided for
dragging heels on innovation, but that alone may not explain their reluctance
to Google Apps.  Faculty members are often leery of chasing fads.  It
may be that veteran teachers are willing but waiting, as the first wave of
heavy use and experimentation evolves, allowing them to passively evaluate the
new tools before jumping on board.  Others may be shrewdly monitoring
mainstream usage by colleagues and friends to determine whether the training is
worth the time investment. Still others will just decide it is
"extra" responsibility they do not need right now.  As teachers
who have come of age alongside Netscape, Google, and AOL begin their practice,
many have looked for online resources as a core component to their teaching
repertoire.  In this case, the use of web-based applications such as
Google Docs, should steadily increase as more and more teachers from the
internet generation join the ranks of those innovators who have migrated to
Google as a platform for education.  Perhaps now that Microsoft has
admitted that the cloud-computing is the way office products are moving,
educators (and education in general), will be able to move forward with these
effective online tools.

See more commentary on my blog:

Tags: google

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Replies to This Discussion

Excellent post Anthony,
I myself am one of those teachers who likes it, thinks it's slick, but I still don't use it... but then again most of my material is safer backed up and on my hard drive as my school's network is unstable and the internet firewall of China restricts Google use whenever it deems it necessary. So, at the minute my laptop and my flash drive give me as much portability as I need.
I can see the benefit however of cloud computing... if that means making your documents accessible wherever and whenever. Your students must be happy they have such a forward thinking teacher.
Hi Anthony,

Great post! You hit the nail right on the head…

I have been thinking about some of the points you present in the post for sometime. I am a former Science instructor, and currently I am working on developing online applications aimed towards the educational community. Having been in both sets of shoes, I can tell you from personal experience that the passive resistance is mostly because of the last reason: “it is an ‘extra’ responsibility they do not need right now.”

Teachers have a great deal of responsibilities, and it becomes a burden to dedicate the time to bypass the “learning curve” most new apps have, to the point where the usage of new technology is actually a convenience and not a frustration. Kids of course, learn to use these really fast, because the online world is their bread and butter. They learn it in their free time, using facebook and the like.

As the industry catches up with educational applications, and app usage becomes the norm in the academic environment, teachers will jump on board. I agree with you in that cloud-computing is the way to move forward, not only for convenience sake, but for all the great possibilities it offers with regards to collaboration and interactivity outside the classroom.
I feel quite alone in the geek world when I say how much I detest Google Docs. I love the idea but the execution is terrible. Maybe it is my focus on the presentation app that sours me but my gosh that thing is awful. Forget the fact that it lacking in features it just loads so slowly. There is the added problem that, at the middle school level, many of our kids aren't old enough to sign up legitimately.

Now, that said, I think all programs are going cloud within the next 10 years. I think the way we use the Internet is rapidly changing with new wifi devices and it only makes sense to put everything online. I am hopeful that future products can outperform Google Docs in terms of execution. I am very happy with Office 10s integration of Skydrive and online products as, say what you wish about Microsoft, it is by far the best suite of office programs I've seen in a long, long time. The jump to Office 10 is massive, even if you are already using 2007. It will be interesting to see what features are dropped for the cloud release.
Great post! I am personally looking forward to the cloud computing possibilities of Office 2010.When I wrote this post,, the Office 2010 capabilities were only rumor.

I like your description of introducing Google docs. I laughed because I have had that experience so many times. It seems that some of the most successful implementations are in schools where lack of money and/or infrastructure demand cloud computing. I recently worked with a technology coordinator at a small Catholic school go to a complete Google apps solution. It has worked fantastic but they probably wouldn't have gone that direction if they could afford and Exchange server and Microsoft Office CAL's

Again...great post!
Twitter @markbrumley
I think the education version of Google Apps really addresses many of the concerns. Our district is moving to a campus-wide implementation.



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