November 15, 2008

The New Face of Computer Applications

Computer Applications classes at middle and high schools are usually focused on teaching office productivity tools. They usually use the Microsoft Office suite of Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint. But desktop applications are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

The World Wide Web has basically turned the software industry upside down. In the olden days, people would go to a physical retail store, buy a box which contained a floppy disc or CD, bring it home, install the software on their computer, and then use it. Technologically savvy users would download the software from the web instead of going to a store.

But the days of buying software and installing it on your computer are almost over. These days, most software is run in a web browser. You go to a website and can access the software from anywhere with a browser and an internet connection. Instead of buying software, the new model is to deliver software as a service. Think of your own computer use. I'll bet that the vast majority of it is spent looking at a web browser.

Things that in the past required you to buy software for can now be done on the web:


The future is clearly not in traditional desktop applications, but in cloud computing. Almost any software that a business needs can now be found on the web. There are several advantages to this:

  1. Web applications are platform independent. They can be used on any operating system and hardware.

  2. Updates are automatic. You don't need to re-install any software when updates are released. Instead, the software company simply updates the code on the server. Anyone who uses that website is always using the latest version of the software.

  3. No more software to install. You don't need to install the software on every computer that needs to use it. A browser and internet connection is all you need.

  4. SAAS is cheaper. Many companies set up their fees on a per-user basis. Software is leased, not sold. You only pay for the time you actually use the software.

  5. Web applications eliminate IT overhead. Since the software is hosted elsewhere, your business does not need to worry about supporting and administering the software.

  6. Web applications are easier to learn. Users do not need to learn a new UI, since they are already familiar with the web.


Businesses are realizing the power of web-delivered software. Schools are too. The districts I've worked at use Infinite Campus and SchoolCenter for student management. Both of these are great examples of web applications.

So, here's the question: with more and more software moving to the web, what are we doing still teaching desktop applications to high school students? Should we really keep teaching them Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, when the future of software is clearly in the web browser?

I say no. I'm gradually changing my Computer Applications class from the desktop world to the web world. There are plenty of Web 2.0 tools that are great resources for students:

Blogs. Blogging is a great way to get students interested in computers. They love creating their own web pages. Some free blogging services are blogger.com and 21classes.com.

Wikipedia. Wikipedia lets students contribute knowledge to the world. They can edit articles and even write their own articles. Businesses use wikis internally for communication about more specific topics.

Google Docs. Students can create documents and spreadsheets online and access them from anywhere.

Google Maps. There are endless possibilities for research here.

Social Networking. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr allow students to connect with others who have similar interests.

Let's not underestimate the power of these web-based tools. After all, they were a central part of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Look what they did for him! I've found that student get really excited about using these tools. In ten years, they'll say, "I remember when we used crusty-old desktop apps in school!"

I'm not saying we should stop teaching office productivity software. Certainly, there is still a place for this. But let's not forget about all of the other computer applications that students will be using in the future.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Nice post and thanks for the link back. It's great to hear you're adapting to "The Cloud" and altering your curriculum to keep students apprised of how these applications are being utilized everyday in the biz world.