Borough schools looking to compute in the cloud

Naugatuck Board of Education members James Jordan, left, and Scott Slauson look over a Google Chromebook during the board’s meeting March 14. Chromebooks are one of the technology upgrades Information Technology Director Alan Merly is proposing for next school year. –LUKE MARSHALL

Naugatuck Board of Education members James Jordan, left, and Scott Slauson look over a Google Chromebook during the board’s meeting March 14. Chromebooks are one of the technology upgrades Information Technology Director Alan Merly is proposing for next school year. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education wants students to have their heads in the cloud.

The school system is moving towards cloud computing.

“We hear a lot about cloud computing. We may not know what it is, but if you substitute the word internet for cloud, you can walk down that path pretty quickly. It’s the next generation of networking. The idea of having your files and your resources somewhere other than on the PC in front of you,” Information Technology Director Alan Merly told the board at its meeting last Thursday.

The cloud refers to having data stored offsite and being able to access it anywhere at any time, which means that a person does not have to be at a specific computer to access the file they had been working on previously.

Merly said having the files and resources on the cloud makes it possible for students to access what they need when they need it, wherever they are.

“That’s really what we want for the kids. We want schools without walls, we want an always on environment,” Merly said.

According to a timeline set out by Merly, the district will recommend a plan to make the switch to cloud computing by May and begin implementing it by June. The cloud should be live and ready for students to use in September.

“By May we want to be able to recommend a solution so that by late May, early June we are putting it into teachers’ hands so they can use it for the remainder of the year or take it home over the summer, and understand how to integrate their lesson plans with these new cloud resources,” Merly said. “Then, hopefully, when school resumes in September, children will have Google or Microsoft email addresses, as will the district.”

Merly said that moving to the cloud would benefit both the students and the board’s budget.

“We want to give capabilities to the children that we can not currently provide with our budget. Google and Microsoft have offerings that are free for all education districts,” Merly said.

Merly also is eying an investment in hardware.

He brought three Google Chromebooks, which are laptops that cost approximately $250 each, to show the board. The Chromebooks are one piece of hardware that Merly suggests the board begin investing in.

Merly said the Chromebooks are able to boot in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

“It’s a very lean operating system, it loads in seconds. That means the kids come into a classroom, they unload a cart, they open them up and are ready to work by the time the teacher gets to the front of the room,” Merly said.

Merly is recommending the board start to purchase Chromebooks in the coming school year for students. The board is scheduled to present its budget April 8.

However, Merly said it wouldn’t matter if the district purchased Chromebooks, iPads, or any other type of computer because the cloud is independent and can be accessed on any hardware.

“The tools that we want to give the kids live out in the cloud. That means Google hosts them, Microsoft hosts them, and they can get at those resources whether they are at their grandmother’s house, whether they’re at the library, home, or on their phone,” Merly said.

Merly said that, due to budget constraints, the district’s technological landscape is not going to change over night.

“To some degree we’re still going to have the computer labs we have. We won’t be able to do a big bang and roll 5,000 Chromebooks out at once,” Merly said.

However, Merly said that having students equipped with Chromebooks and the ability to access information from anywhere in the school is the path the district is trying to head down.

Merly said that the district would be able to move many of their files to the cloud and save money on the warranty and maintenance of the servers. There would still be some servers that the district would keep, such as the ones that stored the financial information, but the majority of it would be moved to the cloud.

Merly said access the cloud would be easy on school grounds as the district’s bandwith was increased ten-fold, from 100 megabit to 1 gigabit, last week.

Merly said the increased bandwith will be helpful since, according to the Smarter Balance Assessment, testing will be moved online.

“I ran a speed test from Tuttle and it said I would be able to test 1,600 children from the Tuttle Building alone,” Merly said.