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How Can Cloud Computing Help In Education?

“Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire.”
– William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) Irish poet, dramatist.

Whenever we talk of cloud computing, we always talk about its impact on business. In all my previous articles, I have done the same, speaking about how cloud computing can improve efficiencies, cut costs, save time and in general, give businesses a great return on investment. However, today I am going to speak on something quite different – how cloud computing can help in the noblest human pursuit of all, education.

The worth of human society is not in how much it earns but how much it knows. For it is knowledge that drives advancement, and ultimately, human comfort. And is not comfort the ultimate aim of increased earnings? However, the worth of knowledge goes far beyond the limitations of material wealth. It is knowledge that makes man, Man.

That being said, I believe that cloud computing has a prominent role to play in the classrooms of tomorrow. Let me provide a few examples. Many of our nation’s schools suffer from low graduation rates directly attributable to insufficient infrastructure – shorthanded staff, tiny classrooms, lack of teachers. Cloud computing solutions can solve many of these problems.

For support staff, a distributed management system can substantially reduce their load, leveraging efficiencies across the nationwide or statewide school network. The problem of tiny classrooms can be surmounted through virtual classrooms, with students attending class in their own homes on their own computers, with the teacher being present hundreds, even thousands of miles away. This can also help address the issue of inadequate number of teachers. With computers getting cheaper by the day, this does not seem unfeasible. And why stop only in America? With cloud-based education tools, the whole world can learn from the best.

Now that we have explored possibilities for the future, why don’t we take a look at the present? Many schools in the United States already enjoy the benefits of computer-based learning; how can cloud computing improve the process? Well, for one, maintenance and upgrades will become a whole lot easier. The service provider will take care of all the nitty-gritty, leaving schools free to devote resources towards what they do best – teach our children.

Also, think how convenient homework assignments will become. The students can work on the cloud, cooperate with team members and share knowledge, and be sure that they won’t leave behind their homework assignments when they go to school. Since they are on the cloud, they can access them anywhere, be it home or school.

From schools, let’s move to colleges. Many colleges do not have sufficient hardware or software to give students a complete learning experience. This problem is especially pronounced in the technical fields. However, with SaaS and IaaS, a limited budget will still allow students access to the latest technologies on offer. Simulating those complex weather patterns and running those complicated algorithms will no longer be something that only students at the top-of-the institutions like Stanford and MIT can do. In other words, cloud computing can democratize education.

Some countries are already moving in this direction. Earlier this month, the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced a plan to allocate £12.5 million to a new program that will fund shared services in cloud computing at colleges and universities across the country.

Sarah Underwood, magazine and brand editor of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) for Education, said, “Some of those schools and academies are already working groups and have shared managed services, and those managed services could very easily be put in the cloud. It saves them from downtime, maintenance, upgrades, it has shared costs and they don’t have to run it for themselves.”

Ms. Underwood believes this represents a great opportunity for ICT professionals to promote cloud computing in general. “You need ICT people who are going to champion it – people still have quite a lot of questions about security, data security in particular. Some will embrace something like that and some people will find that quite a difficult concept to work with,” she opined.

By Sourya Biswas

sourya

Sourya Biswas is a former risk analyst who has worked with several financial organizations of international repute, besides being a freelance journalist with several articles published online. After 6 years of work, he has decided to pursue further studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he has completed his MBA. He holds a Bachelors in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Information Technology. He is also a member of high-IQ organizations Mensa and Triple Nine Society and has been a prolific writer to CloudTweaks over the years... http://www.cloudtweaks.com/author/sourya/

5 Responses to How Can Cloud Computing Help In Education?

  1. Great article Sourya. At Skytap we agree that Cloud Computing can change the Education landscape. These days customers seek hands-on training classes to get the most value out of their software investments. Training organizations struggle with setting up classrooms with minimal IT support. The same is true for Educational Institutions. Solutions like Skytap Cloud alleviate these problems so training managers or educators can focus on content and help reduce costs for their organizations. Give Skytap a try and tell us what you think. http://www.skytap.com

  2. Sourya,

    I like your article because you bring attention to an opportunity in education, but I’ve got to disagree with some of your statements. Low graduation rates are not attributed to a lack of information technology. The schools in the some of the poorest parts of our nation have sufficient and sometimes overabundant information technology infrastructures due to eRate, NEA, and NCLB initiatives. Yet they have high drop out rates. Conversely, the middle class schools are the organizations that have some of the highest graduation rates yet can not take part in many government funded technology initiatives (like the three mentioned) due to their low percentage of free and reduced lunch students. The dropout rate is more closely attributed to the poor student support at home and in the community usually caused by poverty. Many have thought that it was lack of technology, but the data over the last 12 years points otherwise (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5300726).

    As a former teacher and now a member of the support staff, the Cloud can make big changes to the way we support the business of the schools (education) but it won’t release the load, only change it. What would relieve the support staff is if the Cloud becomes as ubiquitous as the PC or the Mac: just plug and go. Otherwise, it is a novelty. I’ve built a small Cloud using UEC on a Compellent SAN. I’ve also experimented with Amazon’s EC2 and ElasticBeans and while great tools, there is no real use in the schools until McGraw-Hill or Harcourt Brace (textbook publishers) develop Cloud based curriculum that is easy to use. As far a virtual schools are involved, the Apollo Group is using the Cloud to that end. It’s already here. UoP, Kaplan, National University all use the Cloud for their classroom structures successfully.

    The problem again is not technological; it is traditional business structure in schools that prevents fully moving to the new model. If you’ve ever worked in schools you’ll know that the school/district/organization is beholden to large amounts of outlier organizations. These organizations control funds and fortune (e.g. fortune refers to perception, regulations, etc.) for these schools. One false move and the school is open for a lawsuit or a protracted fight. School Superintendents will avoid upsetting the status quo. Otherwise, they won’t last long. There are very few change agents that are Superintendents.

    These are just my thoughts. Right now, I know that iSchools, Scott McNealy, Joseph D’Amico, and other groups are working to make tech easier to work with in schools. There are initiatives to put more usable apps for education on the Cloud, but those are low on the Hype Cycle. I appreciate you bringing this information out. Education can use all the help it can get.

    -J

  3. Joel,
    Thank you for your comment. It’s always nice to have the opinions of people actually dealing with the subject on a day-to-day basis. I salute your efforts.

    Regards,
    Sourya.

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