Administration, General, ICT

Living in the Cloud

Living in the cloud makes it easier to manage workflow and stay organised.

In my teaching role I mostly use Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for keeping organised, storing digital resources, communicating and sharing. Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar are the apps I use most. I also use Evernote and Diigo often. At school and on the road I use Evernote on my phone for all notes (never pen or paper) ranging from jotting someone’s name to keeping detailed meeting notes. (Here’s a note listing VicPLN 2013 participants and their blogs.) Later, I transfer notes that require further work or follow up to Google Drive or Google Calendar. (That’s led me to consider Google’s new note taking app Google Keep. It’s not as powerful as Evernote yet, but its inbuilt Google Drive integration makes it attractive.)

Thanks to VicPLN’s prompting I’ve recently started using Pocket. (I used to use it when it was called ‘Read It Later’, but stopped after I ran out of room for apps on my smartphone.  I recently bought a new phone with more room for apps, so Pocket is once again proving very useful.) Instead of sticking things I want to read, but not necessarily keep, in Diigo, I now ‘pocket’ it for reading later and decide then whether or not to archive it in Diigo.

I use Chrome bookmarks for storing and accessing the sites I use most. I love the way Chrome makes it easy to add web-apps and sync my bookmarks, passwords and files with whatever web connected device I happen to be using. I spend 99% of my notebook computer time in Chrome. The only applications I regularly run locally are for editing videos.

For bandwidth reasons I store music and videos on portable hard disks, but I store everything else ‘in the cloud’ using Google Drive. I’ve become so used to being able to access all my stuff anywhere, anytime from any device that, apart from music and videos, I no longer save anything locally. I’m working hard to encourage my teaching colleagues and students to do the same.

I think it’s essential that students develop effective workflow and organisational techniques. Digital tools make this easier today than ever been before. I’m encouraging my students and teaching colleagues to store everything in Google Drive, Gmail and Google Calendar so that all their important communication, resources, digital work, tasks, deadlines, and events are accessible anytime from home and school. (We use DropBox as a backup for some files.) A growing number of students are beginning to access their work out of school hours to show their parents or to work on a project, sometimes collaboratively with classmates who are also ‘working’ from home. Some students become very well organised with carefully labelled folders in Google Drive, labels for filtering and categorising email messages, and important events marked in Google Calendar with reminders. When classroom teachers begin doing the same, the habit catches on and becomes part of the daily routine.

Having our communication, resources and digital creations stored in one place with everything easily searchable is incredibly powerful. Even with someone else’s smartphone, you have all your stuff available. And that’s just the beginning of the power you hold in your hand!

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7 thoughts on “Living in the Cloud

  1. Thanks for a fabulous post John- I think in many ways you have summed up exactly what we were aiming for with this unit. It sounds like you have been using all of the tools we recommended in Unit 2 (I’m glad you’ve gone back to Pocket, it’s fab) so it’s nice to know that we are on the right track with our recommendations. I’m interested particularly in the fact that you are explicitly encouraging your students to build their own workflow strategies- have you found that students already had their own strategies or was it something that most had never considered?
    I do have one other question- do you have any concerns about the fact that you tend to rely on a number of services from the one provider (Google in this case)? I think that the convenience of the ecosystems of large providers (such as Apple or Google) is wonderful, but in the back of my mind I still have some concerns about all of my eggs being in one basket. It wasn’t helped by the shutting down of Google Reader- I thought the public’s response to the news was a bit over the top, but the case did highlight the fact that we are at the mercy of the big providers. For example, if you decide to move from Evernote across to Keep will you be looking at building in some type of backup or failsafe? Or are you happy to continue on and trust Google with your data and time?
    One last thing- do you discuss these issues with your students, and if so, do they give any consideration to what data they hand over to companies? I’d love to know their thoughts.
    Thanks for a great post.

    1. You’ve given me plenty of food for thought with your questions Cam.

      I’ve come across some students in 1:1 netbook environments who make good use of digital tools to manage their workflow and keep organised. They typically use their own gmail, hotmail or yahoo accounts (ignoring the 13+ age restriction) and have their MS Office and other files stored neatly in local folders on their netbook. They are usually the first to grasp the benefit of cloud storage and quickly upload their existing structure to Google Drive and are ready to go. Other students – the majority – don’t seem to place a high priority on being digitally organised. When I ask them where something is stored – USB stick, netbook, school server – they often don’t know. Pushing these kids into the cloud helps a great deal. In the early days they still tend to have plenty of files named ‘Untitled Document’ and ‘Untitled Presentation’, but with Google Drive’s powerful search, finding the relevant file is still a snap. I’ve only recently begun to encourage all students in year 5/6 to create calendar events with reminders. It’s still early days, so I haven’t been able to gauge its effect or whether it’s going to stick. Only a small minority were doing this already. Automatic filtering of email and applying labels is something I’ve covered with 1:1 students, but it’s only stuck with a few. I’ll be doing more work on this.

      When I get back to school in term 2 the first question I’m going to ask students and staff is, ‘How do you manage workflow and stay organised?’ It’s a great question that I’ve never asked. Getting people to think things through for themselves first is so much more powerful than starting off on the wrong foot by saying, “Today I’m going to show you how to manage workflow and stay organised.” Approaching things collaboratively as a learner is much more authentic than always playing the teacher.

      I worry about getting left stuck high and dry in the Googleverse. It’s an amazingly convenient and powerful place, but on a number of levels, Google’s Internet dominance worries me. I believe in the value of competition, and right now, despite the Internet being the most competitive environment the world has ever seen, Google doesn’t seem to have enough of it. My own dependence is another worry. I’m reassured that whenever Google shuts something down they give users plenty of time to extract their data and transition to another service. I’ve used Google Takeout a few times, and, given the amount of data I have, the process is painfully slow, but I’ll probably do it again from time to time ‘just in case’.

      Google is more open and transparent than other technology giants like Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, and that reassures me too. Google’s open path has been very lucrative, and I’m sure that it is motivated by self-interest, but the fact that such a powerful environment as Android has arisen to counter the closed shop of Apple’s iOS is an important benefit for people everywhere. Amazon (another category dominator) have taken Android and made it into their own closed shop on Kindle devices. I’m sure Google wish they hadn’t, but at least their openness made the arrival of another competitor in the tablet space possible.

      Your last question about students thoughts on giving their data to large companies like Google has given me another task for term two. It’s an important question that should be asked. I’ll let you know their thoughts.

  2. thanks John for doing the work and naming the blogs. It is interesting with our dependency on the web to remember what happened in Warrnambool, Telstra’s line got damaged and the town suffered. Banks, ATMs petrol stations as well as all the email and other access. How do we build in safeguards, like Cam questioned what happens if Google goes down? I like being on the web and I save there too but are we prepared for the loss of access?

    1. Meg, you’ve made powerful points about the danger of complete reliance on the cloud. I think it’s important to have backups, though ironically, my main backup is with the cloud service DropBox. (The exception is videos and music which I backup on external hard drives.)

      I’ve gone with that strategy mainly because (1) I’m confident that DropBox and Google will have their hard drives better protected and backed up than me and (2) if both Google and DropBox go bust simultaneously or Internet access gets cut off for an extended period of time, then there will probably be more important things for me to worry about. ( Meteor strike? Global financial meltdown? Earthquake in Glenluce?) Nonetheless, I have backups of my most important Google Drive files on my two laptops using Chrome and Google Drive’s offline storage option. That way I can still work offline while waiting for an Internet connection. I think it’s important that Google Apps users do this so that they can still work offline. Whilst this currently isn’t possible with spreadsheets, you can still view them and offline editing is in the works.

      There are other potential problems like being locked out of my account by Google or a hacker, but someone might rob my house and steal my hard drives too.

      I’m not concerned about privacy. I’m happy that Google’s algorithms trawl my browsing habits and my email. I could turn them off, but then I’d miss out on more relevant search results, access to my search history and interesting advertising. I’m grateful that Google knows I’m interested in educational technology and the latest news on Android phones. Importantly, Google’s algorithms aren’t people. They’re like robots. Google employees found attempting to hack into my search history would be fired immediately. I acknowledge the importance of having some control over one’s online activity, and there are things in the fine print of terms of service that I don’t like, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.

  3. I’m really looking forward to hearing what your students have to say John. I think they’re lucky to have a teacher like you who is challenging them with these type of questions and is helping them to become thoughtful and informed users of technology. Thanks for a great discussion.

  4. Thank-you John for your wonderful and informative Blog. You have provided links to tools that I have not heard of before and I can now explore 🙂 Your List of participants of the PLN, including occupations or roles, together with the link of each ones Blogs is also extremely helpful. I was once told that I needed to network with other peers of my profession i.e. Library Technician. I could either go systematically through the yellow pages, telephone each primary school to learn if they have a library technician in their employment or I could simply look at your Blog…the latter of course is much more interesting and a much more convenient and time saving way to go about it 🙂 🙂 Thank-you once again.

    1. Thanks for your positive feedback and encouragement. It’s much appreciated. Isn’t amazing how technology has made networking and sharing so much easier!

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