Secretary Duncan is joined by John Danner, Co-founder & CEO of Zeal, David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, Valyncia Hawkins, elementary school teacher, and moderator, Gloria Borger, CNN’s political analyst.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the final day of The Cable Show, the cable industry’s huge annual conference, along with Secretary Duncan and several other colleagues here at the Department. Secretary Duncan delivered the keynote speech and participated in a lively panel discussion addressing, among other things, the potential of technology to be a great equalizer in education. After highlighting technology’s promise, he described the vexing problem that stands in the way of realizing it: most of our nation’s schools don’t have fast enough Internet connections to create 21st century learning experiences using 21st century technology.
At its core, that’s what President Obama’s ConnectED initiative is all about: equipping our schools and our teachers with the tools they need to harness the power of technology to better serve our nation’s students.
Recently, a lot of people have been talking about cloud computing and asking what it means to store student information in the cloud. Unfortunately, confusion and misunderstanding can sometimes cloud the issue (pun intended). In order to understand the potential risks and opportunities, we should take a minute to understand what it actually means to put data “in the cloud”.
Online systems are powered by computers called servers. In the past, servers were generally located in the same physical vicinity as the people using them. Email servers were stored somewhere near the office where the users worked; student information system servers were stored somewhere in the school or district where the students attended. As demand for online tools increased and tolerance for “down time” decreased, the requirements for storing (or hosting) web servers became increasingly complex.
Row of web servers in a large data center.
Fortunately, as network speeds have increased, data can travel faster and web servers no longer need to be stored in close physical proximity to the users in order to have access to the data. This allows the creation of remote hosting centers that can be designed specifically to meet the requirements of storing web servers for schools and districts. Since servers for multiple schools and districts can be stored in the same data center, the cost to each district could be reduced even while adding features (cooling, power, backups, physical security, etc.). The concept of hosting web servers in shared data centers became known as “cloud storage”. Server rooms needed special cooling systems, backup generators, and redundant internet connections. In addition as more and more data began to be stored digitally, increased physical security was needed to guard against unauthorized access to the server room. Meeting these demands added an enormous burden to district IT budgets – not to mention increased space requirements in buildings that were already overcrowded.
It is important to note that the co-location of servers for multiple schools in a single data center is not the same as comingling the student information into a single database. This may be the most widely misunderstood concept about storing student data in the cloud. Think about how email works. An email account is hosted in a remote “cloud” data center along with thousands of other email accounts. But just because our email accounts “live” in the same data center does not mean that I can read someone else’s email or vice versa. Along the same lines, organizations that provide cloud data solutions for schools would not be able to amass a single database of student data or allow unauthorized individuals to access that data without violating privacy laws and the terms of contracts with school districts on which they depend.
Whenever student data is being stored—whether on paper, on servers in the back room of a school building, or “in the cloud”—security, privacy and other legal and operational issues must always be addressed. While specially–built data centers can offer additional physical and digital protections for student data, appropriate credentialing requirements, audit trails, and access controls must always be in place. In addition, state or federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may apply. Check out this blog post by our Chief Privacy Officer for answers to common questions about privacy in the cloud.
We encourage parents and students who want more information on how their schools employ cloud computing to contact their schools directly. It’s important for everyone to stay informed about how data is being protected and how student data is being used to improve the learning experience.
Richard Culatta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.
Today is Digital Learning Day! As teachers across the country welcome powerful learning technologies into the classroom, students are engaging and benefitting from enhanced opportunities to achieve.
Access to technology has become as important to learning as access to a library, yet teachers remain the critical link between students and the content. As new, more mobile technologies have entered the classroom, often in the backpacks of students, teachers become orchestrators of projects and seek the best emerging digital environments for improving motivation, relevance and depth of learning.
Teachers are setting expectations for multiple revision cycles of student productions, made possible with professional tools for writing, composing music, creating video documentaries, and design. They are learning along with their students and modeling good questioning and Internet research strategies, assigning more complex and challenging projects and facilitating communication and collaboration even across borders.
Age used to be considered a barrier to technology use in the classroom, and we would call teachers “digital immigrants” and young students “digital natives.” But teachers have evolved especially as technology has become increasingly easy to use and available. Like most educated adults, teachers use technology for personal activities – reading, writing, shopping, communicating with family and friends, seeking health advice and more – and they are also using technology for professional growth. In addition to finding resources on myriad education related topics, they are joining communities of practice to learn with peers and publish and share their ideas and expertise.
Teachers unions and professional associations are supporting the inclusion of digital learning. The American Federation of Teachers launched Share My Lesson, “a place where educators can come together to create and share their very best teaching resources.” The National Science Teachers Association maintains one of the most robust online communities supporting thousands of science teachers nationwide.
Last August, we launched Connected Educator Month. Over 150 organizations participated, offering close to 100,000 hours of online professional learning, with offerings such as book groups, challenges and contests, discussions, webinars, as well as interactions focused on everything from how to manage the first six weeks of school to how to create your personal learning network. The archives of the sessions are all online. The most common sentiment we heard was that “every month should be connected educator month”. Yes, and every day should be Digital Learning Day!
The education profession is as complex and challenging as it is rewarding. There is plenty to learn but luckily, the opportunity to learn has never been greater. And today – Digital Learning Day – we celebrate and thank all those educators who are leading the way.