Tuesday, May 4, 2010

2010 Horizon Report: What 21st Century Principals Need to Look for in Technology

This is my last reflection posting regarding the 2010 Horizon K-12 Report. The first postings looked at technology trends and current challenges we face as we try to move toward 21st century learning. The last sections of the report focus "Technologies to Watch." In the report, there are two technologies on the near horizon that all administrators need to be knowledgeable about, because I am sure a lot of conversation as well as resources are going to be directed toward these technologies.

According to the Horizon Report, there are 2 technologies on the "near horizon." For those not familiar with the format and terminology used in these reports, "near horizon" refers to "technologies to be adopted in the next 12 months." So these technologies are the ones we as administrators will be seeing and hearing discussion about in the next year. The two technologies on the near horizon are: cloud computing and collaborative environments. The definition provided for cloud computing is "a type of computing based on sharing computing resources rather than having local servers or personal devices to handle applications." For example, in cloud computing, your word processor application is not an installed program on the computer that is sitting on your desk. It is an application that exists on a company's server, and you access it through a web browser. I am typing this blog in Blogger, which is an application not installed on my computer, but available to me through my Internet browser. When you finish a document using a cloud-based application, you save your copy on that company's server. There are several companies currently offering cloud-based applications. One of the most popular is Google Apps. Another is Zoho.com. There are others available as well, and as cloud-based applications become more popular, you will see even more offerings. School systems are just beginning to see the advantages of engaging in the use of cloud-based applications. The state of Oregon is already leading the way by moving to the use of Google Apps statewide. They project that the state will save up to $1.5 million per year by making this change. The savings come from not having to purchase licenses like you do for programming like Microsoft Office. You also do not have installation and maintenance issues to worry about since the software is web delivered. In addition, since the files created by cloud-based applications are most often stored on the provider's hardware, there is no need to have computers with extensive storage. Basically, cloud-based applications provide savings in terms of information technology support costs, software costs, and hardware costs. As schools experience shrinking budgets, they may turn to cloud-based computing because using it could end up saving lots of money. Anyone who has used Google Docs extensively knows the luxury of being able to access their documents anytime and any place. Currently our school system is moving to the use of Google's gmail as our email service. Because we are a small school system it is basically a no-brainer. During the next year, more and more school systems are going to start engaging in cloud-based computing. Twenty-first century administrators will need to know about this technology in order to make informed decisions about its implementation.

The other technology on the near horizon is collaborative environments. Collaborative environments give students opportunities to "interact with peers and mentors, experience other world views, and model kinds of work patterns taking place in a number of professions." These environments support the collaborative creation of content and the communication of existing content. Collaborative tools include resources like: Ning, PageFlakes, and Moodle which can customized and membership can be restricted. Other popular collaborative tools include Google Docs, Etherpad, wikis, and group blogging systems. The primary use of these tools is to provide an environment for individuals to exchange ideas and share knowledge. Using these collaborative environments provides students with the opportunity work with students at other schools and even in other countries. There are more and more online tools being created that provide opportunities for collaboration on projects. Twenty-first administrators need to understand these tools, and look for ways to support teachers in their efforts to engage students in their use. This means the 21st century principal may want to become a user of these same tools in order to understand them well-enough to support teachers.

Today, the 21st century principal needs to take on leadership roles in the utilization of both cloud computing resources and collaboration resources. We need to learn as much as we can about these and be consumers of these resources ourselves so that we can support our teachers. This means exploring the available technologies ourselves. This means becoming users of these technologies ourselves. The world is changing rapidly and I want to be changing with it. That's my job as a 21st century principal.

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