The past year saw a number of trends in each category of education products, as the changing demands of the 21st century consumer and K12 markets drive the evolution of technology, and we explore a number of these trends in the following pages. But if there was a “megatrend” that described the current overall shift in information technology taking place over the past year, it was the increasingly pervasive concept of “cloud computing.” Even if you have never heard the term, you probably utilize the idea every day. The exact definition of cloud computing is a bit hazy, just like its name sounds, but it can essentially be described as the practice of using computing power and applications off-site, over the Internet or a local network, rather than at an individual user’s PC. Google is a simple example: The search engine’s massive array of powerful processors and servers operates far away from its users (in a “cloud”), and its functions work equally well on an iPhone, a 5-year-old laptop or a brand new desktop, as they essentially don’t require any computing power at the user end.
Software, hardware and Internet products are all affected by this shift. In hardware, cloud computing has contributed to the exploding popularity of “netbooks,” for example. These subcompact laptops are smaller and less expensive because they offer less power and storage and do without DVD drives, since so many users do nearly everything online and use little software, especially when traveling.
In addition, many software programs include an online component, such as streaming video or other supplemental content. Other programs are simply vehicles to facilitate online or network functions, such as videoconferencing, collaboration or virtualization programs, and thereby also follow the cloud computing model by using processing power and data storage outside of users’ machines.
A variety of new Internet technologies, including fully hosted notification systems, student information systems, and the new generation of administrative and district management programs, have also become more popular because of the cloud computing approach. Many educators now need to store very little information on their individual computers, instead utilizing a central district data warehouse or an off-site location at a faraway company headquarters. Besides the convenience and lack of maintenance, installation and other costs, this approach also has distinct security advantages, since storing sensitive data archives off-site reduces the risk of tampering or loss due to fires, floods or other catastrophes. Many readers praised the accessibility of cloud computing models in managing their districts, as administrators, teachers, students and parents can use various online technologies to easily access student academic records, human resources data and other information from any location, even from their cell phones or other Internet-connected devices.
We enjoyed compiling the following list of winners from the hundreds of reader nominations DA received, and we hope you can benefit from learning what products district leaders around the country have successfully used in the past year.