Saturday, December 17, 2011

Steam Age IT re revisited.

In 2010 I was was reading the article “Is IT Becoming Extinct” by Miguel Guhlin

The topic of In-house IT systems and the development of utility computing has been interesting. I like to chime in from my personal experience and reading of various sources, one being a book by Eric Larsen, in “Devil in the White City”. He describes a time when electrical service was new. There was a big debate about AC or DC electricity.

Many of the institutions in the early days of electricity had their own power generating plants. They employed many people who saw the switch to utility electricity as a great threat and passed around a lot of scare stories about how horrible it was and all the hazards.

Of course, the switch happened and not many institutions employ big groups of technical specialists to generate a private source of electricity. The naysayers lost all credibility and the whole specialization evolved.

Same thing with IT, utility computing is here. In spite of all the horror stories and manipulations of the tech elite, there is less and less reason to have a big group of specialists to operate expensive and clunky private networks.

As a teacher using a computer mediated approach over the last 10 years, I found myself “working around” IT a lot of the time. Many of the tech folks didn’t believe that computers should be used for the purpose of education even though they worked for educational institutions.

Nor did they think that teachers were capable of using technology and they reinforced that opinion by constantly undermining any effort teachers made to develop the necessary skills.

The cultural clashes between corporate IT and administration didn’t help either. Lots of energy was spent on those epic battles and teachers and students were a very minor consideration for all the espoused values of “Students are #1″ in every educational institutions mission and vision statement. The struggle for control and authority have resulted in most of the failures of education related technology innovation.

In-house, corporate IT is like the steam powered DC generating plants of 100 ago. Pretty much done. It is going to take a little while for the change but probably not as long as it took to switch to AC electricity. One of the benefits is that education is being transformed. Technology will accommodate education rather than the other way around.

I know lots of teachers who just gave up on computers and the web and felt that they would never be able to develop the necessary skills. It was just so draining always having to get IT to open a port or set up file system or authorize access to a resource. So they stuck to Outlook, MS Word, Internet Explorer, the “approved tools”.

Happy to say that web based tools and cloud computing has made it incredibly easy for teachers to support learning in the digital era. All the alarmist rhetoric about identity theft, cyber-bullying, online predators etc. is being recognized as the last gasps of a system in transition, a struggle for control and authority. I would encourage all teachers to take another look.

Dec, 2011: I just keep updating this post and watching the trend.
Today reading an article about utility computing see how attitudes have changed in just 3 years.

And for startup companies, the decision to not build is a no brainer. Connectivity to the cloud is the real issue for these companies. “If I was starting a greenfield company, the data center would be the size of my bathroom; there wouldn’t necessarily even be a server, maybe a series of switches and all my backoffice apps, my sales force automation, my storage would be handled in the cloud,” said Dave Nichols, CIO Services Leader for Ernst & Young, the global IT consultancy

In the last year I have been teaching IT courses for pre-service teachers and instead of having them buy a couple of $100 textbooks I have them buy $250 netbooks. The class proceeds with a combination of wireless routers and everybody learns how to use ICT and social media on their own devices. The not only learn how to use the netbook but they start constructing their own personal learning networks from amongst their class mates. The idea is that when they are finished their training and are out on the job, they will have a group to communicate with, on a channel the are familiar with using their own device that they know how to operate. As we approach a state of ubiquitous connection and persistent proximity, BYOD is more important and storage in the cloud is just another part of that sort of independence.

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