The Benefits of the Cloud in Education
The concept of cloud computing is simple. Instead of storing information on local servers or individual computers, the cloud uses a network of servers hosted online to store and manage data.
The standard model of schools’ IT is to have a room with on premise servers that run all of the systems and hold all of the data that the school needs. Every programme and document, sat on a box owned and maintained by the school.
Making the shift to cloud services has huge potential to simplify and enhance IT provision in schools, while saving money on hardware, infrastructure and time.
Maintaining technology in schools is not cheap. Keeping software up to date, making sure licensing is accurate and maintaining current hardware to keep up with the demands of life at the pace we’re currently living all adds up to a lot of expense. Not to mention the costs to keep people there for any instances where something goes wrong and needs to be dealt with by an IT technician. In a school setting, even more than in a traditional business setting, the need to keep costs as low as possible is felt throughout all levels of the organisation.
So why is moving to the cloud so beneficial to the education sector?
For the School
One of the biggest concerns of education providers is the technology infrastructure and IT costs surrounding technology. The cloud addresses this concern by eliminating the need for an in-house IT-supporting infrastructure. The server-based infrastructure that was initially a prerequisite for educational institutes to carry out online learning operations has become a thing of past. This infrastructural capital expenditure is now converted into a nominal operational cost that is an on-demand, pay-as-you-go model.
A cloud platform also enables educators and businesses to opt for subscription-based software. Since cloud-based applications run on internet browsers, the SaaS (Software as a Service) model has made it inexpensive to deploy the technology. This has further benefited the educators in reducing costs associated with servers, data, and applications.
The Department for Education promotes cloud for use in schools to help with costs – although it doesn't directly expand on this reasoning, as technologists we definitely agree that a cloud based IT system generates cost savings. This is simply because we no longer need to invest in to higher costs on premise hardware AND the related software, this includes software such as operating systems, licencing, backup, anti-virus and even curriculum based software.
In addition, currently the DfE estimates that up to 25% of a school’s energy budget is spent on powering and cooling IT equipment alone.
From a cut in electrical fees, maintenance and replacement of data storage hardware and the IT support staff required to handle these technical requirements to printing, filing and storing school data in paper form, you will find the cloud has multiple ways to save time, money and ease stress.
The perception that information is safer when it’s on a server owned by the school is just plain wrong. In that scenario, it’s only as safe as the school’s capacity to keep it that way – from its backup and patching regime to the training given to staff to spot ransomware in emails. The cloud, unlike hardware storage devices, is a step ahead when it comes to data security and data recovery. Hardware failures at either the educator’s end or at that of the learner do not result in loss of data given the cloud backup. Also, the content streamed is end-to-end encrypted, ensuring enhanced security.
The cloud technology is an advantage for educational institutes that offer a large number of courses with tons of learning materials and manage assignments submitted by the students. The Software as a Service platforms provide practically unlimited and secure storage for courses and student data. Educators are also empowered to share course modules and assignments with the learners across devices. One cloud account can be accessed on multiple Internet-enabled devices that students own from anywhere.
Cloud-based tools for communication mean teachers, parents, pupils and governors can all share information, ideas and data accessed from one central location. For academies who have schools spread over multiple locations, but want to bring the whole community together, cloud solutions provide easy and safe communication throughout. A hub where all communication and announcements are passed through allows information to be more readily available, so everyone can collaborate on improving teaching and learning.
Flexible and Remote Working
The ability to access your files when and where you like is one the biggest benefits of cloud solutions for schools. With cloud file storage there’s no need to stay late to use the computing suite as that’s the only place that has your lesson plans - now you can access them anywhere! Increased flexibility in access means teachers aren’t tied to paper or school computers when planning lessons, assigning homework and giving feedback, freeing up time for teachers to focus on the ideas rather than the logistics of planning and admin.
Virtual cloud classrooms provide teachers with a paperless way to set up classes and courses, distribute material and assignments, and track and grade student progress from their desktop browser or smartphone.
On-premise virtual classroom software have existed for a while, but their installation and deployment came with heavy technical and financial requirements.
Google launched its Classroom app as part of G Suite for Education in 2014 and Microsoft released its own Classroom last year. Both solutions revolve around providing a unified environment to better use office cloud apps in managing classes.
A World of Teaching Content
Teachers can incorporate cloud tools and content into instruction in ways that change how they interact with students both in and outside the classroom. They are no longer limited to face-to-face instruction or constricted by class schedules. Instead, teachers are using both tools that are imposed by administrators and more ad-hoc resources. For example, algebra teachers can spend more time troubleshooting individual students' problems by using content like Khan Academy to cover the core material. In other cases, YouTube content can be used as additional support material.
The Future of Work
Technology in the classroom doesn’t just enable pupils to be skilled on using a multitude of devices; plenty of transferable skills and lifelong learning come with this approach and it is essential that we prepare students with these skills early on. Learning through technology leads to individuals who are able to be independent, creative, inquisitive and able to present back and voice their ideas.
Schools need to allow students to learn in a way that reflects the modern world of work. Technology is part of the solution. Teaching students with technology is a much more effective way to ensure young people enter the world of work with the right skills, ready for the challenges they will face.
Schools that already embrace technology in classrooms have attested to a transformative impact on students. It’s hard to see why this approach shouldn’t be rolled out in more schools.
So for schools and academies not yet utilising the cloud, when is a good time to start? The answer is, as soon as possible – and the reason is to be more prepared for future change.
Written by Johnathon Martin
A former teacher, SLT member and IT lead, now Google Certified Trainer looking after our clients as head of the Client Success Team