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By Jim Jindrick, Mentor-in-Residence, McGuire Entrepreneurship Program

jindrick_sm.jpgA hot buzz term these days is “cloud computing,” which refers to software functions that operate directly on an Internet web site rather than on a personal computer. These services include photo editing and storage, newsletter publishing, word processing, video conferencing, shared electronic calendars, and more. Some of the better known tools are Google Docs, Google Calendar, Skype, Blogspot, Wikispaces, YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr.  Many of the tools are free or low cost.

In the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, we’ve been using these tools in the classroom to both communicate with our students and to allow them to interact with each other online.  When we want to check on the progress of the student teams in our entrepreneurship class, we don’t need to make phone calls, send e-mails, or arrange meetings. We simply go online and log onto each team’s electronic “wiki,” a web site that allows collaborative research, writing, and editing. There, we can see the full extent of the students’ efforts on their startups, including their latest research and assignments, meeting agendas and minutes, and updated business venture plans. We can also leave comments on their progress and read the comments of other advisers, often from business executives in other parts of the world.

When the students graduate and move forward in their careers, they can continue to use these tools in their careers. In our venture planning class, we use a blog to post assignments and other relevant information. The students post answers to many assignments online using a Google Docs spreadsheet. We publish the compiled results of some assignments directly to our blog so the students can see each other’s answers to the assignment. In turn, they can act as consultants to each other, providing useful suggestions and recommendations for improvement. In effect, they learn by mentoring and teaching. In addition, we also post much of the material we present in class online, not only for our current students but also so our alumni can refer back to this material as they progress in their careers. 

These new cloud computing technologies have provided many useful and productive tools for us as mentors and instructors, and for the students in class and in their careers.