A Cloud-Based Model for Change – Brookdale Community College

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

At the Aligning the Ubiquitous Campus Conference 7.0 (Nov. 17-19, 2010, Wyndham Conference Center and Hotel, Plainsboro, New Jersey), three Brookdale Community College (Lincroft, New Jersey) staff members made a presentation that should have had a seismic impact of at least 9.0 on the higher ed community. I wish I had been there — or at least had the chance to review the transcript or the recordings, if there were any. Instead, all I have is the preview,* but that’s enough to rock my world.

[Update from Aimée Su, manager of NJEDge Conference 2010: Click here to see the Brookdale video, and here for other videos from the conference. (email 3.29.11)]

The three are Greg Liano, Associate Professor, Mathematics, Ben Broder, Director of Technical Services, and Patricia Kahn, Executive Director Information Technology Services, and the title of their presentation was “Cloud Computing at Brookdale Community College — The Solution to a Multitude of Challenges.” I’m not sure if their intent was to present their solution as a model for change, but it serves this purpose very well. In the following list, I added the text in bold to emphasize the phases of change:

  1. Leave the ground: “away from a siloed IT environment”
  2. Settle in clouds: in “an environment where permeable boundaries are created and increased engagement is fostered through the cloud”
  3. Grow on clouds: “[expand] on cloud computing initiatives already in place (i.e. student Gmail and Google Docs)”
  4. Build cloud classrooms: “[provide] access to virtual classrooms that [alleviate] the challenges associated with  classroom space and scheduling”
  5. Explore the silver lining: take cloud classrooms “one step further [toward] true innovation [by] expanding virtual access to students and faculty from off campus remote locations”

What makes Liano, Broder, and Kahn special is that they are able to see beyond the immediate uses and forms of cloud computing and cloud classrooms. Yes, they have their immediate campus-based uses, but they also point the way to uses that transcend the physical time and space limitations imposed by non-cloud, or physical campuses. They say, “Brookdale has taken this cloud initiative one step further, by allowing students to access these desktop applications from the comfort of their own home.” The future is a cloud campus, and Brookdale has already taken the first steps in that direction. Here’s how they describe their effort:

This is where Brookdale has demonstrated true innovation, where students were offered the same cloud computing experience as if they were in front of the classroom or library computer. This remote instance of cloud computing provided an enhanced learning experience for the student without the constraints of physical limitations. Instructors provided students with assignments and projects that used the same applications being used during class time. In the past, student projects were limited because resources that were needed to complete these assignments could only be accessed on campus. Now these same resources are accessible from a remote location, so students are no longer limited.

Clouds, MOOCs, virtual learning environments — we’re experimenting with many different ways to raise learning off the ground, but the goal is the same — to release it from the constraints of buildings and classrooms to make anytime-anywhere learning a reality.

* WebCite alternative.

9 Responses

  1. From the video of the presentation, ca 0:08:12, what they chose was Google Apps for Education, not straight Gmail and Google Docs.

    In Google Apps for Education, the admin of a given scheme (here Brookdale College’s) has more customizing power, i.e. to create something that works like a closed LMS. However, the Privacy Notice for Google Apps is rather worrying:

    Google Apps is offered by Google in conjunction with your domain administrator and that administrator may have access to your account information including your email. Specifically, subject to your domain administrator’s privacy policies, your domain administrator may:

    • View statistics regarding your account, such as information concerning your last login or data storage usage;
    • Change your account password, suspend or terminate your account access and your ability to modify your account;
    • Access or retain information stored as part of your account, including your email, contacts and other information; and,
    • Receive account information in order to satisfy applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.

    Moreover, cf. the National Federation of the Blind’s recent request that the US Dept of Justice investigate schools across the country who adopt Google Apps, because they are unusable by blind students.
    Brookdale College’s decision seems motivated by lack of money to continue with a server-hosted LMS. And that’s a very strong motivation. But is the result really more open than an LMS?

  2. Good question, Claude. As I said, these are early steps. What impresses me more, though, is their sense of direction, which seems to be toward the kind of access — student-based rather than campus-based — that our new technology invites and encourages. That is, even if this is an early step, they’re already at a point where planning is based on cloud or virtual realities rather than campus and building.

    The step toward a non-LMS platform is also definitely positive because it’s sustainable and “open” in the sense of real-web relevance. The security they’re using makes sense if the purpose is to limit access to specific course elements.

    Re access for special needs students, my guess is that these features will come in as the platform develops, either as a direct initiative by Google or as a function of course design by the college.

    For me, the real wonder is in Brookdale’s enlightened vision. They seem to have both the courage and imagination to look beyond the traditional campus-based ICT models that define the vast majority of colleges. -Jim S

    • Traditional LMS’ can also be accessed from everywhere if you have an account, so aren’t they also student-based rather than campus-based?

      As far as understood from the first half hour of the 93 minutes of the video of the presentation, the new part of Brookdale’s approach is giving students access to proprietary softwares like Photoshop via a virtual desktop image they can access from anywhere.

      By contrast, the president of Makarere University (Uganda) said at the March 2003 Prepcom-2 for World Summit for Information Society that his university had moved to free/opensource softwares (FOSS) only: in part for the same financial reasons (if they had to pay for the MS Office licenses, that would have taken half their budget, he explained). But mainly as a way to empower students after they leave the university and won’t be able to afford the licenses of proprietary softwares.

      With proprietary software offered via VDI, you still have to pay for licenses. From what I understood of the presentation, the difference is that instead of paying per number of computers where given proprietary software can be installed, you pay for the number of users who can use it at the same time. So what if this limit gets reached and other students need to use the same software? The Makarere FOSS approach seems to make more sense. At least it’s the approach that was belatedly adopted by the Geneva Dept of education in 2008.

      • Claude: “Traditional LMS’ can also be accessed from everywhere if you have an account, so aren’t they also student-based rather than campus-based?”

        Good question, Claude. This gets to the heart of my article. The LMS is based on campus so, no, it’s not student-centered. If you look at the illustration in my recent article, you’ll see that school-centered technology is a subset of school.

        In the student-centered model, technology is a subset of student, and it’s in this relationship that tech is part of a student’s personal learning environment.

        This distinction is critical for any 21st century technology plan. -Jim S

  3. But the Brookdale Community College tech set-up is just as school-centered as if they were using an LMS on their server, Jim.

    Google Apps for Education used at Brookdale are not the same as Google Docs etc. They are schemes controlled by the schools who create them. The administrator decides who has a login for the scheme. They are a closed, school-only,learning environment.

    Ditto for the virtual disk image via which students can access softwares:it’s the college administrator who decides who can access the VDI, from what I understood of the video of the Brookdale CC presentation.

    For a real student-centered learning environment, see Andreas Formiconi’s Spring 2011 course for medicine students at Florence university, also open to outsiders, which I mentioned in a comment to your Mental Model for 21st Century Education: School First or Student First article, btw.

    Description: (Un piccolo per)corso libero per aspiranti cittadini del cyberspazio (A small free course/trip for would-be citizens of the cyberspace) and see posts tagged Corso Primavera 2011. In Italian, but Google Translate will render the content, roughly.

    Among the assignments: creating a blog or letting him know of one’s existing blog, keeping a log of activities, with self assessment, in a Google spreadsheet, captioning a video about Google spreadsheets, etc.Then he collects all the productions via RSS feeds, and reports about them in the posts tagged Corso Primavera 2011 in his blog, with a mapping of active people for each day, also obtained via RSS feeds (and an imaging software he’s made).

    The only other “centralized” tool for the course is a plain pbworks wiki for relevant materials.

    Isn’t that a far more student-centered, open, learning environment than Brookdale’s,, where the access to the Google Apps scheme and to the VDI is strictly reserved to the college’s students?

    • Claude, my intent in this article is captured in this sentence: “The future is a cloud campus, and Brookdale has already taken the first steps in that direction.”

      The earlier part of that paragraph is: “What makes Liano, Broder, and Kahn special is that they are able to see beyond the immediate uses and forms of cloud computing and cloud classrooms. Yes, they have their immediate campus-based uses, but they also point the way to uses that transcend the physical time and space limitations imposed by non-cloud, or physical campuses.”

      In other words, Brookdale is in the early stages of what I’m interpreting as a cloud-based model for change. They’re just starting the journey, but I think their destinations are good ones. I am not saying that their program, as is, is the epitome of a cloud campus.

      If this meaning is not clear, then the fault is mine.

      You’re also telling me that I don’t know what student-centered is and that you and Formiconi do. I won’t respond to this.

      My student-centered vs. school-centered model must also be really poor if I’ve failed to communicate that this is a model for planning. That is, in planning on how technology ought to be integrated, schools have a choice: give students the highest priority or the school. My point is that if you give students the highest priority, schools will need to incorporate much of the technology that’s already a part of the student’s world. Again, if my graphics fail to convey this, then the fault is mine.

      Thank you for your detailed comments, but in all honesty, I don’t get it. -Jim S

      • Let me try again, then, Jim

        Brookdale case illustrates two aspects:
        – cloud-based v. school server based tech: they use cloud-based tech.
        – school-centered v. learner-centered use of tech: their use of tech is school-centered.

        I.e. having your tech in the cloud does absolutely nothing towards creating a learner-centered environment, per se. Google Apps for Education and access to proprietary softwares via a VDI, being limited to people for whom a school creates accounts, illustrate that.

        They are as school-based a, or even more than, traditional LMS. When Brookdale students lose their accounts in future because they’ll graduate, they won’t be able to access either the contents created in the Brookdale Google Apps Edu scheme, or the softwares available via the Brookdale VDI.

        By contrast, Open Access repositories are server-based hence not in the cloud, but they remain available to students after they graduate, as well as to everybody else.

        Similarly, the materials of Andreas Formiconi’s cloud-based student-centered course will remain available to students after they graduate, and to everybody else. As long as the cloud-based platforms survive and don’t turn proprietary/paying as Ning did last year, that is.

        (This uncertainty about continued hosting of cloud-based content is the reason why, in the “Strumenti per collaborare online” Google form -> spreadsheet meant to create a list web-based apps Lucia Bartolotti and I decided to make for a discussion in La Scuola che Funziona, there is a rubric for back-up possibility.)

        Google Apps Edu and VDI are very clever exploitations of school administrators’ desire to keep tech use school-centered: an offer to rule absolutely over a little enclosed portion of cloud.

        So maybe the best thing would be to stop mentioning the cloud – as well as “21st century skills”, “digital natives” and other irrelevant catch phrases – when discussing educational strategies towards empowering students.

  4. Claude, thanks for trying again, but you’re still missing my point. I’ll try one last time.

    You say, “Having your tech in the cloud does absolutely nothing towards creating a learner-centered environment, per se.”

    Yes, of course. But that’s not what I am saying.

    Your arguments are straw men. You’re misrepresenting what I’m saying and then attacking those misrepresentations.

    In my responses, I’ve tried to explain and clarify, but I’m obviously not getting through.

    Finally, my article is not about Google apps. This is your agenda. Not mine. -Jim S

  5. LOL, touché: the preposterous experience with Google Apps @ didasca.org I described in Beware of Privacy and Other Issues When Signing Up for Free Courses possibly put a bee in my bonnet. It seems unlikely that anyone else can use Google Apps for Education in as absurd a way.

    However, it’s the things we haven’t been told in that Didasca course about and with Google Apps for Education that I find most worrying: the total lack of privacy, especially in the Gmail part of Google Apps, and in general, the very traditional control conferred to the administrators of Google Apps schemes. And of course the accessibility issues over which the National Federation of the Blind wrote to the Department of Justice.

    So this is why I jumped when I heard in the video recording of the Brookdale presentation that what its preview described as “student Gmail and Google Docs” were in fact their Google Apps versions, with the mentioned lack of privacy.

    Using Google Apps perhaps makes sense with younger students, as you can only sign up for a normal Google account (hence use normal Gmail and Google Docs) if you are “of legal age to form a binding contract with Google” (Google’s Terms of Service). While this clause is widely disregarded by individual minors, schools cannot ignore it. For such schools with minor students, Google Apps is the only solution if they want to use Google Docs and/or Gmail – again, cf. the accessibility issues, though.

    But why should a university or college, where students are “of legal age to form a binding contract with Google” , and hence use normal Google accounts, use Google Apps for Education?

    So that students can have @[institution’s website] e-mail addresses? But isn’t the lack of privacy entailed too high a price for that? Why should major people be forced to have their job applications, their correspondence with other students, viewable by a university/college administrator?

    Oh well, I’ll stop here – with a suggestion that interested readers compare the preview of the Brookdale presentation with its video recording, and judge for themselves.

    No, one last thing: apologies if I seemed to intimate that you don’t know what student-centered means. What I meant is that your diagram in Mental Model for 21st Century Education: School First or Student First does not cover students’ interaction (hence my half jocular suggestion in a comment there to use a UK dart target as a visualization). But that was about your model only: I am fully aware that you know the importance of peer interaction.

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