Increasingly as time goes on, and cloud technology develops, I see less and less relevance in schools having network domains. In case you’re not a massive techy…domains are the Windows environments in which users log on, wait for a ton of settings to be remotely applied and you are given access to a network drive and shared area. By contrast, cloud environments are online storage and working platforms which allow documents to be seamlessly accessed at any time from any device.
I’m now convinced that domains continue to linger on in schools as a dominant working platform because:
1) Many IT professionals feel at home with them and have built careers around domain technology
2) It’s the way “things are done” and people are generally resistant to change
3) The message isn’t getting out to school leaders about how cloud environments are better for teaching and learning
At Dixons Allerton Academy, we’re lucky to be very active Google Apps users. We have around 300,000 files stored in the cloud that can be accessed and shared with a tap of a smartphone button or a right-click of a mouse, and that just continues to grow from week to week (we’ve only been with Google Apps since late 2014). Yet, when I’m in contact with other schools I’m often surprised at the barriers domain technology puts on effective teaching and learning (and how staff are willing to put up with them). I’ve talked to schools splashing out on expensive software to allow the easy sharing of traditional document files and to allow universal remote desktop technology when these offer a very weak and expensive experience, when the cloud natively offers something much more powerful for a fraction of the cost.
So, this post is designed to provide school leaders with a first hand account of what the cloud can do and why it is better for teaching and learning in comparison with domain technology. Hopefully, it will open some eyes of people looking at the possibility of a transition from the domain to the cloud. I’m even more hopeful that it is read by leaders in domain reliant schools who are not aware that there’s a much better model of ICT deployment which can assist teaching and learning!
Reason One: It’s much faster!
I’ve worked on some really awesome (and some really bad) Windows domains. However, on the whole, I often find the logging on and off process to be painful (at best). In a day and age when a typical smartphone, iPad or Chromebook is ready to load up instantly, do we really need to wait for profiles and policies to be downloaded from a central computer for my laptop to start working? If I’m giving computers or laptops to students, is this really the best use of lesson time? To put things in context, our current domain takes around 3 minutes to get a Windows laptop powered up and logged in. That’s actually not that bad! By contrast, I can get a student to boot up and log into a Chromebook in 15 seconds. Students are then free to access their cloud storage area, any online application or Google Classroom. Back in the physical classroom, three minutes of no learning isn’t helping anyone. It undermines the ethos that the classroom is a place of work. Students will chat, and I can be pretty strict, but even I can’t bring myself to tell a kid for being off task when the alternative is to stare at a blue screen telling students about Group Policy settings. If I need students to work in the cloud they can hop online using a Chromebook, pull up any file from their Google Drive or start an assignment in classroom. It actually makes technology deployable, and easier to use, in the classroom. Likewise, an iPad can save straight to Google Drive if it needs to and it can be unlocked and in use in seconds.
Reason Two: Tracking and feedback is better!
The cloud is all about sharing, and having access to online resources at any time. Take Google Classroom and Docs for example. It’s designed around allowing students and teachers to have access to the same document at the same time in order to facilitate work while the teacher can offer formative feedback. That’s brilliant! I can track exactly where students are up to and I can offer them verbal and written guidance as they work along. There’s a reason why it’s the most used student online working environment at Dixons Allerton Academy. Now, let’s look at the domain alternative. Files need to be closed by one user before they’re opened by another user. Files are usually stored on the personal areas of students so that they’re locked away. Feedback and tracking is only possible when students decide to print (if this can even be considered a good use of lesson time…) or if students make a copy of their work on a shared drive. In the real world this leads to files stored on USB drives (which get broken or go missing) and multiple copies of the file all over the place. A nightmare that the cloud beautifully simplifies!
Reason Three: Students who access their work out of school hours do better
In the past, IT Professional have told me that remote desktop technology is the ultimate answer to allow staff and students to access files outside of working hours. I recently asked for statistics on the use of this in our Academy and discovered that just ONE student had remotely logged into a desktop for four seconds over the last three weeks. By contrast we have 978 unique users of Google Drive EVERY DAY. When I grouped together the 25% of Post-16 students who accessed Google Drive the most in their own time they were the most likely to exceed their Alps targets. This shouldn’t really shock anyone! In this day-and-age tablets and smartphones are the device of choice. A cloud environment is optimised to allow users to quickly access their cloud files using apps such as Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drive and Classroom at the tap of a button! The cloud offers this…a domain doesn’t!
Hopefully this post isn’t preaching just to the choir. It contains three simple reasons why the cloud offers a better teaching and learning environment from a practitioner in an actual school. By no means do I want this to be a post that stands alone by itself. Feel free to drop me a tweet and see the use of the cloud first hand! Visits to Dixons Allerton Academy are always welcome if you’re new to the cloud and its implications for teaching and learning.by