The Milton Hershey School recently announced that it will extend its Hershey Learn to Grow Ghana Distance Learning program, which launched last fall. The program connects students in Hershey, Pennsylvania with students in Assin Fosu, a rural town in central Ghana and allows students to explore each other’s culture; such as important events or special occasions that are celebrated.

David Bruce, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Milton Hershey School, said “we believe this new approach will be more meaningful and provide a deeper understanding for the students of what it’s like to live in each country.”

Additionally, in a touching story, Ed Schermerhorn of Cisco recounts his experience of the first telepresence call between the two countries. After dealing with a power outage that was resolved by a standby generator, he describes how watching the students in Ghana and Hershey interact made it worth it. “All it took was a vision and a team of dedicated people to open doors that these students had never imagined were possible,” Schermerhorn stated.

It’s truly amazing how video conferencing technology can break through previous geographical barriers and connect people around the world. Distance learning programs that facilitate the interactions between students from different countries allow students to gain a better understanding of different cultures and provide them with experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Students are able to discuss topics and listen to points of view from a different perspective which helps promote tolerance and acceptance of different cultures. Some of the best ideas come from bringing together people from different backgrounds. That’s an important lesson for students to learn and businesses to remember.

*Photo courtesy of Dan Gleiter. View the entire photo gallery here.

As cloud services pick up speed in the private sector, questions about security, cost savings, implementation and best-practice models have emerged in concert with its rapid growth and adoption. But are institutions of higher learning following suit? Cambridge, MA-based Forrester Consulting turned their focus on 12 universities in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, India, and New Zealand, surveying CIOs and IT directors for their July 2012 report “Cloud Bursts Into Higher Education.”

They found out how and why these schools are employing the cloud; plus they give some suggestions as to where the partnership between higher education and the cloud is headed.

So, how do schools who adopt the cloud compare with businesses?

A Forrester survey from 2011 asked 920 companies which were the most important factors in choosing to deploy SaaS. The top 4 were:

  1. Improved business agility (72%);
  2. Allows us to focus resources on more important projects (66%):
  3. Speed of implementation and deployment (64%);
  4. Faster delivery of new features and functions from SaaS/as-a-service providers (60%).*

*“Lower overall costs” actually tied for 4th place with 60%

As previously noted, Forrester found that universities were adopting cloud services to boost productivity. Plus, speed, budget and scalability were the top three features universities valued most about the cloud. When it comes to the cloud, universities are aligned very closely with businesses.

Forrester also found that cloud-forward schools have three commonalities. First, a common corporate-to-education talent migration means schools’ CIO or IT directors often have firsthand experience of successful cloud implementation, and are endeavoring to bring knowledge and practices up-to-date at their universities. Second, schools with big technology components—academic programs that need and/or can get the most use out of cloud services, like IT training, animation, and fashion—are the most enthusiastic about adopting cloud technology.

Third, U.S. schools are ahead of the pack, with, Forrester estimates, international universities lagging behind by about 12 months. Forrester cites “lack of knowledge and understanding” as the biggest barriers to cloud adoption, noting the while these universities are turning more to the cloud, they’re doing so much slower and more carefully than their U.S. counterparts.

In the future, expect to see more inter-departmental collaboration between IT and academic departments. Additionally, funding will move from IT to academic departments as those departments take on more IT autonomy, and team up on projects.

New realities are driving more direct control of technology by leaders of non-IT organizations, internal users, and customers—empowered by their own technology use. These changes herald an IT organization in which CIOs build agile and nimble teams that enable empowered employees and customers to be successful directly using technology for education.” – Head of Information Technology at a New Zealand University

Related Articles:
Learning the Cloud Way – Part I

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a NASA Digital Learning Network program with a fourth grade class that ironically was located about fifteen minutes away from me.  Scott Anderson, a DLN Coordinator at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, taught a module about Toys in Space. The program focuses on forces and motion and consists of an investigation of what toys will work in a microgravity environment (such as space).

Did you know that a boomerang actually works in space? It’s because the looping path a boomerang follows is actually the result of the uneven forces exerted by the air they travel through and not the influence of gravity.

For each segment, a short video of an astronaut using a toy, such as a jump rope, is shown to the class. After the video, the instructor gave a brief explanation as to why the toy did or did not work in space. In the jump rope’s case it is because of the law of motion; an object in motion will stay in motion until something (usually gravity) causes it to stop.

The instructor then poses the question to the class, what could be done to modify the toy to perform better in space? After a flurry of raised hands, the teacher selects a few students to answer the question. My favorite answer for the jump rope was magnet boots. When you jump up the magnets pull you back down similar to gravity (smart fourth grader!).

After the lesson is completed, the students have the opportunity to ask questions about the lesson or NASA programs.  For example, what animal has gone into space the most? The answer is the squirrel monkey although France did send a cat into space one time.

Overall, the program was extremely interesting and the kids were well behaved and actively engaged.  I learned a lot of interesting tidbits so I imagine the children learned a lot from the class as well.  It’s great to take a break from typical lessons and learning channels (or work day) and learn something new!

Watch the below video for a sample of one of NASA’s DLN programs where they connect Mission Control with students in Georgia.

As cloud services pick up speed in the private sector, questions about security, cost savings, implementation and best-practice models have emerged in concert with its rapid growth and adoption. But are institutions of higher learning following suit? Cambridge, MA-based Forrester Consulting turned their focus on 12 universities in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, India, and New Zealand, surveying CIOs and IT directors for their July 2012 report “Cloud Bursts Into Higher Education.”

They found out how and why these schools are employing the cloud; plus they give some suggestions as to where the partnership between higher education and the cloud is headed.

So, how is Higher Ed approaching cloud services?

The Forrester study found that universities are adopting cloud services to boost productivity, and speed, budget, and scalability were the top three features university interviewees valued most about cloud services. But the study uncovered an interesting dynamic: professors and department staff are leading the way with cloud services at their universities, implementing cloud applications as needed, and circumventing the IT department. One side benefit of this autonomy is that IT departments can then focus their resources on other, critical IT tasks.

Echoing concerns coming from the private sector, universities are concerned about security. In fact, the report states “security is the No. 1 roadblock to cloud service adoption.” For schools, the two primary concerns are keeping research (intellectual property) and private student information confidential and secure.

The most common cloud adoption right now is the private cloud, with many of these schools keeping private information, like emails and research, on their private cloud, and “student-related information” on the schools’ servers. The report does note, however, that hybrid clouds are in use, and expected to increase. Additionally, as academic institutions partner up to offer expanded learning experiences, often online, expect to see a growth in the use of community clouds for sharing research and course materials.

Lastly, schools are looking to the cloud for cost savings; however, as cloud usage goes up so do costs. While several interviewees claimed significant cost savings with adoption of various cloud models, in one example the “expanded use of the services over three to seven years raised the cost of SaaS to nearly even with the cost of a perpetual license and on-premises deployment.” In other words, as academic staff and students become more familiar and comfortable with using cloud services, related costs increase, thereby erasing some of the gains.

Related Articles:
Learning the Cloud Way – Part II

Did you know that NASA, home to astronauts, rovers, and space shuttles, also offers a comprehensive program of free Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses for students across the U.S.?

NASA’s Digital Learning Network (DLN) reached almost 76,000 students last year using video and web conferencing from one of their 10 studios. Caryn Smith Long , manager of DLN, explains how the innovative program helps to broaden students’ learning—and worlds.

IVCi: Who uses NASA’s DLN?
CSL: We work with students from kindergarten through certified teachers. We’re developing some asynchronous courses where we take some modules we offer classrooms and teach them to teachers so they’re able to do the same offerings with their students. Our calendars get really full really quick, so this gives them the opportunity to learn the material and do the module themselves in the classroom.

IVCi: What are the benefits of the program and video learning?
CSL: There are a variety of different benefits. I was a teacher for 16 years and I tried to give kids a chance to see beyond their own limited backyard so they could see a future for themselves. Video conferencing provides them with the technology that allows students to see beyond their own world.

When kids hear they’re going to be connecting with NASA, it automatically generates excitement just because of the branding. The meatball, the little blue insignia, is second (behind Coca-Cola) in terms of international recognition.

We’ve done some research on the effectiveness of video conferencing and have found that integrating inquiry presentation within video conferencing is indeed an effective way to have students learn. It’s actually a more effective way to learn the content when you’re being interactive and the students have supplies on their end and you’re facilitating that through a process of questioning.

IVCi: Are there any challenges with using video, especially regarding schools’ access to technology and equipment?
CSL: Initially, there were issues. Video conferencing equipment was very expensive. You could spend anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 for a complete system and a lot of school systems didn’t have that money. Originally that was the only way we could connect with them because it was consistent in quality for both audio and video. But over the years, web conferencing has become more stable and reliable. We have web conferencing software that allows schools to connect via webcams on their computers directly to our video conferencing units. We’ve also used Skype software solutions. So opening up that door has made us more accessible to schools.

IVCi: Have you seen an audience growth due to this increased accessibility?
CSL: Yes, I think so. We have about a 20% growth and I anticipate even more growth at the end of this fiscal year.

IVCi: Which are the most popular programs?
CSL: Our Magnificent Sun seems to be really popular with our elementary students. Planet Hopping is another one, and States of Matter, and Roving on Mars with Curiosity. This one’s been revamped to include the ongoing research Curiosity is doing on the Red Planet.

IVCi: Are there any particular challenges with keeping students engaged when using video conferencing?
CSL: When you first start with these programs and the kids aren’t used to it, they’re all amazed the TV is talking back to them. But eventually the technology becomes transparent so it’s as if you’re in the classroom with them and they begin to realize we can see them. Sometimes I can see the entire classroom with video conferencing better than I can in the actual classroom because you have a different perspective. We try to personalize it as well. We ask for the kids’ names, and that forms a relationship.

IVCi: What are some of the most memorable questions you’ve heard from students?
CSL: The funniest questions they ask are astronaut related: How do you go to the bathroom in space, how do you sleep, how do you eat? When we open the session up at the end for questions, 9 times out of 10, we’ll get those three.

IVCi: Can you share some of your favorite moments?
CSL: Not only have I had the chance to work with astronauts, which is way cool, but I’ve also met the Tuskegee Airmen. We had author Chris Van Allsburg in our studios to talk about his book Zathura and about myths and realities of space travel. We had a chance to celebrate NASA’s 50th birthday. We had a big web cast where we did a NASA love-fest and connected all day long to each of the 10 NASA centers and each did a special presentation for U.S. schools, but we also did schools internationally that day.

IVCi: What’s your favorite part of NASA’s DLN program?
CSL: Knowing that we’re impacting more than just 30 students in a classroom. We’ve connected with hundreds of thousands during the year and we’ve inspired them to maybe look beyond their own situations and get excited about science and mathematics. To know that, as an educator, you have that kind of impact with that many students, that’s why you go into education.

CarynBlogCaryn Long is Lead Education Specialist for NASA’s Digital Learning Network. She is a 25-year career educator and former elementary classroom educator currently pursuing her PhD in Educational Technology at Oklahoma State University. She resides in Newport News, VA with her significant other and two young sons.