Educational Institutions Beginning to Embrace the Benefits of Cloud Technology
What, exactly, is “the cloud”? For a while, the answer has definitely been cloudy. But, as time goes on, and more people begin to experiment, the reality is becoming clearer. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, initially introduced the phrase at a 2006 industry conference. At first, traction was slow. The concept seemed fleeting, trendy and perhaps even irrelevant. Still, some people struggle to understand what the cloud is and what it means…or could mean.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as:
“A model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
What their definition is saying, in more everyday terms is this: the cloud means shared access to both applications and information, from anywhere. Realizing the potential behind that technology is easy, but implementing the technology in a way that lives up to its potential is intimidating, to say the least. So far, the education sector has been slow to embrace the cloud.
Why? The first reason is not unique to the education industry; with the cloud comes concerns for security. A survey of IT and library leads in UK education revealed some 68% view security as a main challenge, with legal concerns following at 65%. Jeremy Sharp, the director of strategic technologies at Jisc, a national charity providing digital solutions for UK higher education, downplays the need to worry about security, saying:
“Fortunately, keeping customers’ information separate is vital to modern cloud providers’ reputations and their technologies and processes are designed to do it well. Indeed, clouds can have significant security benefits.”
Sharp certainly has a point. Security is a crucial part of many industries, and cloud companies aren’t oblivious. Security will always be a worry, but educators can find some assurance in the fact that they aren’t worrying alone.
Even with existing concerns, adoption of the cloud is almost inevitable. As with most things, the negatives can be weighed against positives, which the cloud definitely brings to the table. Some noteworthy benefits include:
Access. Teaching requires communication that transcends classroom walls. Students can benefit from thinking about what they’ve learned outside of the school day. Parents can aid learning if they are able to follow along with lessons. Teachers can make more inspired plans if they aren’t restrained to their desks. Cloud computing and storage allows for lessons to be shared, revisited, and created from places other than at school. That kind of access helps magnify a lesson’s value.
Affordability. Technology is a hefty cost, and most organizations are working with limited, often stretched resources. Cloud technology can help lift some of that financial burden. For example, GovDataDownload recently shared the $500,000-saving experience of DeKalb School District. One of their articles details:
“By using IlliniCloud’s shared resources model, 350 school districts in Illinois and six other states have been able to avoid areas of high cost – like hardware acquisition and management – by participating in a pay-as-you-go model that enables districts to purchase only the services they need.”
Innovation. Innovation is a crucial part of education. Methods are constantly evolving, and cloud technologies give educators the ability to share data, resources, tasks, and more in a way that makes collaboration and innovation more seamless.
At the end of the day, school administrators and their IT leaders are faced with some hard decisions. How will they embrace the cloud? What combination will integrate best with their current system? What could a modernized infrastructure mean in terms of efficiencies and weaknesses? While taking action can be daunting, it’s important to get the conversation started. Take opinions from outside the school into account. Get feedback from students, parents, and the community at large. Find the right mix of traditional and cloud technology to fuel innovation, further learning outcomes, and set a successful example. Don’t be afraid to set your goals sky high.
1. “Cloud technology: the advantages and disadvantages for universities” Times Higher Education. July 28 2015.
2. “LIFE SKILLS, CLOUD TECHNOLOGY, AND BRANDING: K-12 TRENDS FOR 2014 – PART 1” The Edvocate. April 17 2015.
3. “How Does the Cloud Cut Costs for K-12 School Districts? Practical Advice from IlliniCloud” GovDataDownload. April 23 2015.
4. “The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing” National Institute of Standards and Technology. September 2011.