E-Learning 3.0: Cloud Computing

The second topic in Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC, bears the title ‘Cloud’. Stephen has provided a good synopsis of the week’s content on the course site, where he starts by saying:

The joke is that “the cloud” is just shorthand for “someone else’s computer.” The conceptual challenge is that it doesn’t matter whose computer it is, that it could change any time, and that we should begin to think of “computing” and “storage” as commodities, more like “water” or “electricity”, rather than as features of a type of device that sits on your desktop.

Stephen provided some easy to read introductory articles to Cloud Computing which I have copied under the heading ‘Resources’ at the bottom of this blog post. In the first article in the resource list Bojana Dobran defines cloud computing as follows:

A simple definition of cloud computing involves delivering different types of services over the Internet. From software and analytics to secure and safe data storage and networking resources, everything can be delivered via the cloud.

You probably use different cloud-based applications every day. You are benefiting from cloud solutions every time you send a file to your colleague via the web, use a mobile app, download an image, binge a Netflix show, or play an online video game. All these services are stored in the cloud and exist in some digital space.

Storing your information on OneDrive, SharePoint, or an email server is much different from keeping that data on a desktop hard drive or a USB stick. You can access it from just about any computer that has internet access.

For businesses, cloud computing means improved collaboration and productivity, as well as significant cost reductions. It means better data protection, improved availability, and expanded access to cutting-edge technologies.

All this will be familiar to the average computer user, even if they haven’t thought much about Cloud Computing – and it is not new. Dropbox, a personal cloud storage service used for sharing and backing up files, has been around since 2007. I don’t remember The Cloud being mentioned when I first signed up to Dropbox.

But, the focus this week has been on the next generation of Cloud Computing for virtual learning rather than for storage and file sharing. The invited guest speaker was Tony Hirst from the Open University. Whilst I appreciate that he is way ahead of the game in the work he is doing on Cloud Computing, it turned out that the gap between his technical understanding and mine was, for the most part, just too great to bridge. Here is a link to the video, and Stephen’s description of it, for those less technically challenged than me: URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjGyVXI2zFA

Conversation With Tony Hirst Oct 31, 2018 video We covered server virtualization with an in-depth look at using Docker to launch full web applications in just a few moments, and then looked at embedded programs in Jupyter notebooks, tying it all together with a discussion of how these might be used in the future.

But it was interesting to hear why the Open University (OU) is working on this. Students at the Open University, UK, are distance learning students who bring their own device. The OU has no way of controlling the devices that the students bring, apart from stipulating a minimum specification. The issue for the OU is that they want students to run a complicated software environment, so the OU has had to find a way of delivering the software to students so that they can manage this and the students can run it. To do this they use virtual machines which the students download and run on their own computers. These virtual boxes contain all the applications that students need. All this was interesting and made sense, but I got left behind when the discussion went ‘under the hood’ and delved into the technicalities of doing this. Docker and Jupyter notebooks are new concepts for me.

For anyone who is in a similar position to me, I would recommend that you watch Stephen’s own video first, before watching the conversation with Tony Hirst.

Applications, Algorithms and Data: Open Educational Resources and the Next Generation of Virtual Learning Oct 29, 2018 video Using examples such as virtual containers and actionable data books, I sketch the future for the next generation of OERs as a distributed and interactive network of applications, algorithms and data. My presentation starts at 1:18:00 in the video. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4680&v=MotTQd9U0sY

And here are the slides that accompany this talk:

In the first part of this talk Stephen explains that Open Educational Resource Repositories are fairly well developed; open pedagogy is beginning to change our practices as open resources are increasingly produced not just by educators and institutions, but by the students themselves. But he pointed out that we have only recently begun to think of data as open educational resources that will be very useful for learning. For this we will need to aggregate distributed data and resources. We have already been encouraged to do this, on this course. Stephen then went on to explain how he does this in his own work, and where he thinks the next generation of virtual learning is going. From this point there was overlap with the conversation he had with Tony Hirst and again it mostly went over the top of my head. He talked about:

  • i-Python – an interactive programming shell for the Python programming language
  • Jupyter Notebooks – an open-source web application that allows you to create and share documents that contain live code
  • Actionable Data Book
  • XAMPP
  • Spoodle – Spoodle is an up to date portable moodle / ‘moodle on a stick’ solution for learners to access Moodle courses without requiring constant internet access
  • gRSS hopper in Vivaldi
  • gRSShopper as a Firefox Sidebar
  • Research and References in an MS-Word Plugin
  • Server Virtualization
  • Virtualization Platforms – Vagrant
  • Docker
  • Cloud Infrastructure Providers …. and more

Being very familiar with Moodle,  ‘Spoodle’ caught my attention, but I did wonder how, if you had your Moodle course on a stick and were not connected to the internet, you could be sure you were looking at the most recent version of the course. Courses are not static. They change from day to day (i.e. the course site changes), just as this one is doing.

Whilst there is still a lot here that I don’t understand, it has been very useful to get a glimpse of what the future might entail. But I think Stephen and Tony both agreed that it will be a while before your average single user has all this at their fingertips.

Update: For a very good explanation of this topic see Stephen Downes’ summary – https://el30.mooc.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=68440 

Resources

What is Cloud Computing in Simple Terms? Definition & Examples
Bojana DobranPhoenixNAP, 2018/11/01

“Did you know that the monthly cost of running a basic web application was about $150,000 in 2000? Cloud computing has brought it down to less than $1000 a month. For businesses, cloud computing means improved collaboration and productivity, as well as significant cost reductions. It means better data protection, improved availability, and expanded access to cutting-edge technologies.” Web: [Direct Link] [This Post]

Cloud Computing 
2018/11/01

Describes cloud computing and explains the benefits, concerns, types of cloud computing and what to consider when moving your business to the cloud. Part of Ontario’s E-Business Toolkit. Web: [Direct Link] [This Post]

Cloud Adoption Strategy: 2018 update 
Government of Canada, 2018/11/01

Cloud computing can be compared to public utilities that deliver commodities such as electricity. Instead of buying and running infrastructure itself, an organization buys computing power from a provider. Much like electricity in a home, cloud computing is on-demand and the consumer pays for what they use. The cost of the infrastructure used for delivery (storage and services in the case of cloud computing, hydro poles and power lines in the case of electricity) is covered by the charges to the consumer. Web: [Direct Link] [This Post]

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