There is always much debate about the merits of schools and universities moving to the cloud. In reality, it seems inevitable. The cloud enables people to work more flexibly with staff and students able to work anytime from anywhere, providing of course they have connectivity and a device. One of the major impacts of cloud computing is that the storage of teaching materials and student’s work are no longer bound by physical location. Indeed, the traditional teaching methods which relied on information being provided to students and the latter carrying a mountain of text books are fast disappearing. Cloud computing makes it easier for schools and universities to share resources, store data and collaborate. With ultrafast broadband, connectivity is becoming less of an issue. As you might expect, universities have been quicker to adopt with online learning and teacher/student collaboration more advanced. No longer do they need to be present on campus or wait for a lecture. Of course, access to the internet is crucial and a level playing field when it comes to computing devices is certainly desirable.
Cost is often cited as one of the other key benefits for moving to the cloud. The Department of Education has been promoting the cloud for this very reason. According to an article in EdTech, the DoE estimates that 25% of a school’s energy budget is spent on powering and cooling IT equipment. In the same article, it cites Microsoft with estimates of savings up to 60% on licencing, hardware, support, maintenance and power, simply by moving from on-premise to cloud-based solutions. Of course, that means moving services out of the school and into a secure, shared location, such as a data centre, where it can be accessed as and when required. This can reduce infrastructure and on-site IT costs. However, over time education establishments have built up multiple servers running a host of different applications. For some, the move may be a real challenge and whilst cloud services may well mean a reduction in the cost of in-house hardware, some experts believe that moving to the cloud may not realise significant savings. Most safe, reliable cloud services come at a cost. On the flip side, moving to a subscription type model ensures your hardware is maintained and the software is up-to-date. In addition, data centres are certainly greener with more efficient energy resources.
Safety is of course a key factor. There is still a perception that the cloud is less secure than traditional IT environments, but there are also strong arguments that it offers better potential protection in terms of encryption and authentication as well as better logging and monitoring tools that are available from data centres. Data of a sensitive nature is collected by schools and special attention needs to be paid to that. However, most of the information that is going to be stored relates to resource material which makes it less of a risk.
Of course, teachers need to be trained and familiar with any new technology in order to fully benefit from it, but cloud computing can also help here, providing resource material than can be accessed at any time and without the need to physically attend off-site training.
Cost and security are factors to take into account, but no-one can deny that moving to the cloud can transform the way teachers and students can work together in creating a rich learning environment.