Virtual Desktop or Virtual Nightmare?

Author’s Note:  Since the original article was written in 2008, cloud storage of information has blossomed. Unfortunately, many mobile desktop cloud storage locations have a short life. Only two of the five listed below are still in existence, Glide and eyeOS. This serves to highlight the warnings in the article below about being careful when using cloud-based storage of your data.

The proliferation of mobile desktops such as Glide, G.ho.st, eyeOS, DesktopTwo and Jooce makes it easier for computer users to move from one location to another, saving their data to a virtual computer, instead of the workstation they are using.  While each of the above mobile operating systems offers different applications, Glide is the clear leader. Glide offers a full set of applications, including a word processing and a spreadsheet program.  It also offers an interface that is intuitive and easy to use.  Many users will enjoy the 10GB of storage offered to members. 

 

While DesktopTwo has a clean interface, and a desktop resembling Windows, much of their system is in a Beta version and I encountered a situation wherein it hung when trying to load the virtual hard drive.  EyeOS also offers a clean uncluttered appearance, with a wealth of applications.  I did not care for the design and layout of either G.ho.st or Jooce, although the younger users would probably like G.ho.st’s “myspace” feel.

 

One of the advantages of having a virtual computer is that it offers a means to back up your flash drive data.  I have misplaced or forgotten flash drives more than once, and have wished for a means to retrieve the data until the drive is located. By placing your presentations and documents in a virtual drive, you no longer have to fear that your flash drive is missing or will fail to work when you need it.

Educators will find that the virtual desktop enables them to “take their work home” without lugging everything back and forth.  Students will find that they can save their projects, use applications like spreadsheets, without worrying about a flash drive, and then retrieve the project at home.

Given these advantages to virtual computer mobile operating systems, what could be the drawback?  Some of the companies will not exist in a year or two, given the rapid changes in technology. The best of the systems will remain, or be absorbed by giants like Google.  Other systems will fall, as so many technology-based companies have witnessed.

 

Why is this a concern?  The failure of a company that stores your data could be catastrophic. A virtual nightmare could ensue, if you relied upon your data being present on a virtual hard drive which no longer exists.  Therefore, I would carefully examine the role that these “webtops” will play in your use of technology.  The leaders in the field will adapt and continue to exist, however, as the old adage states “Be careful about putting all of your eggs in one basket”, as you do not want to find that the basket and all of the eggs are missing when you need them most.

Technology or Just the Latest Gadget?

Certain applications such as Ning, iGoogle and NetVibes allow you to structure the manner in which you recieve information and network. These applications are helpful to avoid “tech overload”, as each new day brings a newly touted technology to the forefront. The problem with many of the new technologies is that people beleive that each one is the new answer to making students computer literate in the 21st century. Eventually, some of the technologies will rise to the top, but for now, each one must be evaluated carefully, before integrating them into the classroom. Educators need to ask if the new technology assists in the learning process, or just adds more bells and whistles. The ability to collaborate with other students in countries around the world is exceptional, and will ultimately change the way in which much teaching occurs.

Since we are, however, in a transitional stage, wherein the worthless applications have not yet vanished, educators need to be asking the fundamental question “Does this assist in student learning?”, before they adopt the newest trend. We only have one shot with each year’s students, and it is paramount that we ensure that the students receive an education instead of a technology showcase.

Sifting through the Internet

I have always considered blogs as an online format of a diary, but I can see that this line of thinking limits my perspective on the ways in which blogs can be used. The first area in which blogs and readers can assist educators is in the process of culling through the tremendous amount of information on the Internet.  If certain educational blogs are trusted by the teacher to keep them abreast of changes in the field, the RSS feed of the blog serve as a means to filter through the immensity of the Internet.  Depending upon one’s interests and specializations, subject-specific blogs assist today’s educators in remaining relevant, and in touch with others in the field. A well designed blog that discusses way to integrate blogs into the classroom, as well as a myriad of other topics is http://www.techsavvyed.net/ . Another blog that I found of interest is http://web20teach.blogspot.com/ .  This blog suggested that departments within a school  use blogs as a means to stay in touch.  This would fit the Professional Learning Community model adopted by our District, and would provide a means to exchange information easily and quickly between staff meetings. After reading about it online, I intend on starting such a blog for our math department.

 

Integrating blogs into the classroom is slightly more difficult, given that students may need access to e-mail accounts for the purposes of posting. Our district technology department has a very stringent policy on allowing student access to e-mail, as they fear that students will open e-mail with a virus that could take our District system down. Yet, if properly implemented, blogs should be viewed as a means to create a website presence that does not require one to have knowledge of HTML code. Therefore, any student or teacher can easily post Internet content. I believe that students could not only participate in blogs that are teacher-driven, but that they could use blogs to present projects rather than the traditional poster-driven approach.

 

While I found the use of blogs in education to be interesting, I also found that some blog feeds do not work with Google Reader.  The use of a reader provides a means to provide one source to locate content that you are interested in, much like having a customized newspaper. I found, however, that the lack of formatting options in Google Reader was problematic. I would prefer that Google Reader provided me the option of setting up where I wanted specific content, such as the screen location of blogs that I read daily. Unless I missed some of the formatting options, I would prefer a reader that allows me to customize the appearance of the screen, and the location of specific information. I took a recommendation from Richardson’s book, however, and used NetVibes to format a custom page.  I found that the use of NetVibes allowed me to integrate the RSS feeds, along with weather and other information to create a highly customized page. Despite the apparent limitations of Google Reader, I believe that the use of a reader by a teacher could assist in not only locating content of interest, but also provide a very efficient means to check on student responses to a question that is posed. For this reason, I believe that I will try to integrate the use of both blogs and readers within the classroom environment.

 

 

 

 

Blogs as a Nerve Center

I envision that I could use a blog as a means to manage all of the different classes that I teach.  Instead of updating information on each class website, the blog could be used as the focal point of all of the classes. Information about the classes, changes in schedules, assignments that are due, and other material could be posted to the blog.  In this manner, the blog acts much like your central nervous system, as a means to stimulate the other areas.  Links to each class website, and updates on each class could all be done from within the blog.

For this reason, I view the blog as a mean to effective classroom management.  It also provides a way to receive valuable input from other instructors in the same field.

For these reasons, I will have to examine the practicality of implementing a blog for my classes.

-Bob Mahoney