Without much fanfare, cloud computing is making big waves in the field of education and we are now seeing the growth of virtual learning centers, the advent of personal learning systems and distant learning programs. Yet another big differentiator is information durability. This ensures that data can be stored in the cloud indefinitely and thus over time, a great data resource will be built up that will benefit several generations.
You only have to look at the many slide sharing sites, the video lessons that are available on-line and see how easy it is to explain complex concepts to students with animation and video. And if the lesson is created once, why should it not benefit students all over the globe?
An ever increasing number of libraries are going on-line. Students from different countries are already working collaboratively and generating new concepts and ideas. All of this is just the beginning of the change that cloud computing can bring to education. Luckily for our younger generations, this is a rapidly growing trend and many government agencies are understanding the benefits as well.
A recent UNESCO report on cloud computing in the education sector makes for very interesting reading. Besides discussing the by now well documented advantages of cloud computing in education, the report also discusses some other, less well discussed benefits. Some of these are mentioned below –
- Low impact on the environment – Cloud computing enables educational institutions to reduce their own power consumption and since the cloud data centers work at much higher efficiencies, there is an overall reduction in power consumption. Many countries also have legislation that sets targets for reduction of power consumption and cloud computing is one way of meeting these targets.
- Focus on core business – Just as schools and universities do not have their own electricity generation and sewage treatment plants, it makes little sense for them to have their own computing centers. Since computing services are also becoming commoditized, it makes more sense for them to be delivered by professional computing companies so that universities can concentrate on education.
- End user satisfaction – There are clear advantages of cloud computing as regards end user satisfaction. The range of services that can be offered is increasing rapidly and one clear advantage of cloud computing over traditional methods is the constant upgrading of services and software by cloud service providers. Students always get the very latest software to work on. Their work is always accessible to them from wherever they are. In fact there is a recorded instance of a girl accompanying her parents on a very long transoceanic cruise in a sail boat. She was able to keep up with her class by downloading lessons while in harbor and studying them while cruising. The girl got all A’s in her exams which probably says something about her effort and about the efficacy of cloud computing.
In spite of the advantages, UNESCO is also quick to point out the areas where universities must be careful about during their move to the cloud.
A major concern is of course security of data. There is fear that sensitive student or institution data could be breached. Besides, the reliance on a single cloud provider, it is feared, could introduce a single point of failure. However this is not really a worry. Large financial and legal institutions regularly trust their data to the cloud. The worry about failure is also not real because cloud service providers give guarantees of uptimes better than 99%.
There is also fear that institutions could be subject to advertising that they do not want to see. This can be easily handled by a well drafted service level contract. While selecting a cloud service provider, UNESCO recommends that institutions carefully evaluate the functionality offered by the company. They must also see that the platform suits the applications that the university intends to use and that the solution also supports tablets and other mobile devices. In addition to this, there could be some technical requirements that the solution must be able to meet. All of these have to be considered carefully.
Finally, it is also recommended that the negotiations for comprehensive cloud services not be carried out individually by each institution but by regional or national educational authorities since they have better capabilities to negotiate and select services. Having many institutions use a common cloud service will also help in cross flow of ideas which is after all the very idea behind education.
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About the Guest Author:
Sanjay Srivastava has been active in computing infrastructure and has participated in major projects on cloud computing, networking, VoIP and in creation of applications running over distributed databases. Due to a military background, his focus has always been on stability and availability of infrastructure. Sanjay was the Director of Information Technology in a major enterprise and managed the transition from legacy software to fully networked operations using private cloud infrastructure. He now writes extensively on cloud computing and networking and is about to move to his farm in Central India where he plans to use cloud computing and modern technology to improve the lives of rural folk in India.