Keeping up to date with IT is just as important in the educational sector as it is in any other. If schools are to stay ahead of the game and continue to produce technologically advanced citizens of the future, it becomes essential that educational institutions truly embrace digital innovation. This is because the migration to new and advanced technology will not completely replace the need for classical style teaching, but will change and enhance the learning process, redefining the way the educational system functions.
I think one of the key technologies that transforms education is cloud computing. By offering standardised technology services through the internet, it removes the need for institutions to host multiple servers on site. It also provides an ‘à la carte’ style service option, allowing institutions to handpick the services they require from a provider and only pay for what they need, resulting in a more cost effective IT solution. Which given today’s budget constraints, is a key factor.
For example, moving to the cloud enables examinations to be taken online, allowing students to submit their work in a simple and concise way whilst safely storing their work online. All these advancements work to save time and resources in schools, bringing benefits to the entire alumni.
So, if the cloud offers the above solution and a broad range of other opportunities and benefits, then why do educational institutions continue to question the possibilities the cloud has to offer? For me, it is not only a matter of the usual suspects such as budgets, time and priorities that hold these institutions back - I believe that the answer has more to do with the control aspects of cloud computing and the lack of understanding of the impact this will have on your institution. The fear of losing control of student data, applications and infrastructure could perhaps be enough to discourage institutions from moving to the cloud.
Fearing the sensitive issues of security and privacy – which is always a delicate issue - decision makers may begin to question the safety of cloud computing in education. Without a full understanding of the security measures put in place by the cloud, institutions may not realise the full potential that the cloud has to offer, indicating an issue which needs addressing right back in the board room.
So, how can institutions benefit from cloud computing without losing sight of the control and privacy issues? First of all it’s about educating the audience on the different aspects of the cloud, as well as how it works, helping it become more understandable. High level board members might talk about the cloud but they may not truly understand it and the way it impacts their institution.
For example, the difference between Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is not a topic of discussion that I imagine features heavily in weekly meetings. But, understanding the different cloud delivery models could open the way for a more knowledgeable discussions on privacy, security and control issues.
Furthermore, a cloud strategy has to be defined. This strategy needs to be aligned with the educational and institutional strategy and should not only indicate how cloud computing can improve functionality and efficiency; but it should also describe the impact on your institutions business model. In a sense, the cloud is not only supporting the strategy but providing an opportunity to broaden your institutions strategic perspective.
The strategy will determine how, in which areas and with which partners cloud computing will be used, based on a solid business case. In this perspective the aspect of cloud orchestrating is worth mentioning, as a trusted cloud partner should combine the best aspects of several clouds (Google, Amazon, and Private Cloud) to deliver secure services that provide the greatest benefits.
The European Union recognised both the cloud potential and the related privacy issues and began the Helix Nebula initiative which helps to create standards for a Secure Science Cloud. Using these standards, the EU hopes to help institutions gain more trust in cloud computing, enabling them to confidently integrate this into their day-to-day operations and environment.
By following these guidelines, institutions will be able to recognise the added potential that advanced technology can offer when it comes to transforming the educational experience and staying connected to our rapidly digitising society. At the same time this will enable institutions to quickly enhance their education offering to deliver a more complete educational experience.