Everyone is talking about the cloud, but it is not
about saving money, it’s about extending learning. Robert Moore looks at the benefits and challenges of cloud computing
it. So the cloud is a familiar concept to most of us in our personal use, but what may not be so obvious is that there are also ways that the cloud can transform schools. There is a lot of buzz about the cloud in education,
but let’s get a few things cleared up. From a budget perspective, doing things via the cloud does not necessarily directly cut costs unless you want to do more than what you are currently doing. If you are in the field of education, you probably
share my sentiment in that we always feel like we want to do more to help students get the most out of their school careers. While schools can save some money by using free cloud resources, such as Microsoft Live@edu, the real power of the cloud is that it makes anytime, anywhere, any device access to educational resources and tools a reality. Children in the UK spend less time in schools than
students in other high performing countries and to compete in the globalised industries where so many of our children will work in the future, they will need to compete with global job candidates. The cloud can help extend education and learning
E USE cloud technology everyday. Google docs, Google mail, YouTube, Amazon – all these daily tools are hosted in the cloud yet most of us use these without really thinking about
Education in the Cloud
beyond the classroom walls and with access to teachers and resources anytime, anywhere, from any device – students have more opportunity to take their learning further. Public cloud resources like teachers and students
having access to email at school and at home are extremely beneficial. If both parties are able to use email using a laptop or smart phone, then students can have access to teachers and resources from home. Students can contact teachers to ask for help with school work and parents can access test scores, teachers’ feedback and notes on things like absenteeism without having to wait for annual parent-teacher meetings. Another big advantage to the cloud is that it allows
schools to move to learning environments that are more flexible and that often resemble how many people work today. These are often referred to as a blended learning environment – classroom learning plus a component of class work taking place online. Teachers can set up
an evening chat session where kids can access teachers from home to ask questions. What does this mean for teachers? Are we placing
extra burden on teachers to keep pace with the changing teaching environment? In fact, where previously teachers would be available before and after class at school to help students and answer questions, they are now able to help students from home if they wish. With kids these days overscheduled with various extra- curricular activities like sport, music and drama lessons for example, the cloud provides a lot more flexibility for students to get help from their teachers from home. From a risk perspective, most schools today are
unknowingly at greater data security risk operating in existing on-premise environments than they would be in a cloud environment. Schools need to ensure that behavioural issues are addressed through policies and that security measures are put in place. When considering the cloud, the typical bottleneck
for schools is internet speed and the fact that school networks are not built for highly mobile environments, whereas cloud requires sound, wireless networking. That said, moving from wired to wireless is not prohibitively expensive; it has developed a lot over the years and IT can manage it more easily than before. The benefit for students and teachers of course is
flexibility and anytime, anywhere access. Students can access resources in the same way that adults have got used to remotely accessing applications and emails on smart phones for example. For IT managers in schools, their role can evolve
from “keeping the lights on” to helping education institutions achieve their goals. The cloud enables IT as a Service (ITS), which was largely unavailable to the sector in the past, due to cost models. The newfound affordability of ITS will result in a
similar trend to what we saw in the commercial sector. Cloud computing and ultimately the reduced need for internal IT management will mean that IT leaders in education will shift focus from managing IT to looking at how IT can help schools innovate and do things better. Many IT managers who have already started to
consider moving to the cloud ask “what type of cloud will work best in a school environment?” The type of cloud computing – private or public – that should be used in schools depends on the application and resources required, the depth of technical expertise available within the school, internet bandwidth and cultural acceptance and comfort with the public cloud. Ideally, the more a school can hold in the public cloud, the more efficient and effective access will be. The risks associated with cloud computing centre
around internet connection and network infrastructure. If the internet connection is not reliable, then teachers and students risk not being able to access resources in the cloud. In the public cloud specifically, where there is a dependency on free cloud resources, there is some risk that these can go down, although it is marginal compared with the advantages of such applications. Where laptops used to be too expensive for schools
to be able to realise the advantages of cloud computing, today new, comparatively inexpensive netbooks and smart phones make these resources more accessible in the education environment. The attainability of hardware to enable the use of cloud computing in schools means that more and more resources will be stored in the cloud.
• Robert Moore is director of business development for Dell Global Education.
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SecEd • March 24 2011
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