What you will learn
It isn't really necessary to understand what a cloud application is but if you do (even a little bit) it can help you understand the advantages of using a cloud in your teaching. So here goes - hold on tight, it may be a bumpy ride!
In meteorology, a cloud is a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body (but you knew that, right?). In computing, a cloud is a concept, a remote resource that allows you to save document somewhere in the virtual sky and not on your computer. Because it is mostly (or even totally) independent of programs installed on the your device or PC, it can be accessed from any device (no need to be surgically attached to your USB) and can be accessed by anyone that has your permission. It cannot be "left at home" like a USB, (another excuse bites the dust) and you don't lose anything you've saved on it if your device gets stolen or if your laptop falls under a train (it could happen!). It's not just a web site with a big server.
In education, the main function is to store students' work in one place where you, and they, can work on them wherever you are. A cloud is also particularly good for working collaboratively because (technically) an infinite number of people can work on the same document, at the same time, even if they are dotted around the school, town, city or even the globe!
How to use it in a classroom
There are endless cloud services out there, but by far the most well-known amongst us ordinary folk are Google Drive and Dropbox. They are not 100% bona fide cloud apps because you do have to download a program to your computer! But that's the IT geek in us splitting hairs. Google Drive offers cheaper plans than Dropbox, while also offering more storage for free (we like free). Even though Dropbox makes it very easy to get additional free storage space, Google Drive offers significantly more space for much less. For this reason we will look at using Google Drive, but if you're unlikely to be a heavy user there's not much between them really.
Your school may choose to let each teacher set up their own account to use with students, others may open one account for the whole school. Joining is really easy and the basic package is free. Search Google Drive then click on Download Google Drive. Follow the instructions and within minutes you'll be all set up. If you don't have a Google Account, you'll need to register. Use a name format you're happy for students to see (if you use your first name, or worse still a nickname, students will call you by that name for the rest of your career). Stick to Mrs M Jones, or M Jones. Dotty Winkle, for example, should be avoided, even if it's your real name.
You can create new documents on Google Drive, but you can also upload existing documents e.g. Word, Excel, Adobe files into your Google Drive. You then get to choose who has access to these by clicking share (button with white padlock on a blue background) and choosing recipients from your list of contacts. You will need the students to download Google Drive on any application that they wish to use to access Google Drive. To do this, you'll all need a Google Account. For obvious reasons, it is best that they have an email address provided by the school (this is commonplace) rather than using personal email. Everyone that is going to participate will need each other's email address in their address book so that they can 'share'. But even if the whole school is using the same account, people will only be able to see those documents that have been shared with them specifically.
Rather than providing a complete lesson exemplar, we'll list some general ideas on using Google Drive. This is to give you a taste of the potential teaching and learning opportunities because it is a resource just like flashcards or paper folders - it's a tool that can sometimes help you.
- Fancy trying a paperless project? During holidays, ask learners to write a news report. It can be a national story or a local one. Explain to them that they will need 3 documents in their folder: Research, Communication notes and The Finished Report. They will use the Research folder to collect each individual's research; The Communication Notes folder will contain their dialogue and ideas and the third will contain the final, polished report. Whilst they may like to meet up to work on it together, the beauty of cloud computing is that it isn't really necessary.
- Ask learners to keep a Learning Journal. Use it to check in on their progress. Leave notes for guidance.
- Upload reference or revision material. Again, this means it will always be available to them and cannot be lost or spoiled like paper material.
- Ask learners to take photos and upload them to Google Drive. In Geography, these could be examples of physical and man-made landmarks where they live. In art, they could be stained glass windows in churches and public buildings. In maths, they could hunt down examples of tessellations.
- Of course, they can also store portfolios of work. You can use these as the basis of end of year assessments and show them to examiners or inspectors.
Further activities for teachers
As well as using Google Drive with your students, why not use it to organise and store your own work? I have files for presentations, reports, lesson plans, timetables etc. In fact, I store everything on there... you can never have too many backups!