Education in the age of cloud computing

Cloud computing continues to be one of the top “buzz words” as predicted in CORE’s Ten Trends. Released this year from Educause is a new book titled “The Tower and the Cloud, edited by Richard Katz – available as a free electronic download (2.4Mb PDF).

This volume tackles some of the questions and challenges for the education system such as   “How are ‘cloud’ technologies and applications already affecting us?” and “What does that say about how they are likely to evolve and impact us in the future?” Although the focus is primarily on higher (tertiary) education, much of what is described applies more generally to the broader framework of our education system.

In her forward to the book, Diana Oblinger comments;

“While not offering a crystal ball, [the book] does provide a series of reasoned, analytical perspectives on how current trends may unfold, altering our institutions and the higher education landscape in a future that may arrive faster than we expect. In reading it, we are all challenged to move beyond acknowledging the pace of technological change to envisioning all that the tower can be if we embrace the cloud.”

The metaphor of the “tower” (the tradition, silo-ed, autonomous institution) and the “cloud” (the concept of ubiquity, sharing, collaboration etc.) is well explored in each of the contributed chapters, exposing the obvious tensions and paradox, and providing both food for thought and some practical ideas on how things may unfold.

I was particularly pleased to note Katz’s comment that “It is still all about empowerment” – a theme that emerges several times in the book, raising the question; “What is the role of the institution in a world where individuals are empowered to seek solutions anywhere in the network cloud?”

I’ve found this volume of particular interest in light of the work I am currently doing with a school that is aggressively pursuing a vision of positioning itself “in the cloud”, and considering my own organisation where we’ve recently moved some of what we do into the same space. Ideas in the book that particuarly challenge me include the concept of a ‘cloud academy’ (p.22), new models of governance and scholarship (p.108) and the raft of issues around open source and open content (chapter 5) – all of which present huge challenges at a systemic level within our education system.

The figure included at the bottom of page 76 of the book, titled “Towards a Strategically Unified Information Future” (below) bears an uncanny resemblance to the eLearning Framework I helped develop here in NZ five years ago, and also underpins the thinking behind the eFramework development initiated by JISC and partners.

It is when thinking like this that the enormity of the task really impresses itself on our thinking. Adapting to the cloud is not a technical problem, it is a behavioural one – and the fact is that the technology is now enabling the more rapid change in the behaviour of individuals, while being resisted by larger organisations and institutions, be they univeristies, local governments, businesses or government departments.

Now there’s something for everyone in the education system to think seriously about – from the BOT of the smallest rural school, through to the CIOs in our education agencies!

3 thoughts on “Education in the age of cloud computing

  1. Derek, Thanks for this post. I’m downloading the eBook and I look forward to the read.

    Your last paragraph really rings true for me. As with most web 2.0 technologies or ‘the cloud’/cloud computing, the ability to deploy the technology usually far outstrips an organizations ability to address the rapid change required, as a whole, to gain most benefit. The availability of the ‘cloud’ through web 2+ technologies is further challenging us. The ‘cloud’ really is a metaphor and the challenges seen since ICT integration began again hold true and are amplified due the rapid rate of change. It is addressing this challenge, and an organizations ability to get over a tipping point which leads to such exciting and beneficial teaching and learning practice.

    I like some of the questions you’ve raised and I’ve asked this one myself: when has our agency CIOs engaged with the CIOs of their communities? I would welcome a C-level conversation and dialog. Perhaps it has occurred, but my understanding is that at the K13 level, it has not. As a NEN develops, the relationships of the CIO/CEOs of our organizations will gain importance.

    I also look forward to more exploration of the education sector architectural work with regards to NEN and schools. Do schools have an ability(capacity) to implement the great work done in with the e-Framework? And; is this what is required to develop a unified strategy? If not, what is and are we investigating this for schools?

    Exciting times lie ahead.

    Cheers, Jason MacDonald, ICTS Director

  2. Hi Derek,
    I must agree with you and Jason here – there is a need for conversation. The LMS process is an example of this, in my opinion. The decision as to which is the supported LMS will be “made” before christmas. Where is the process that we would expect in industry or perhaps most government departments – RFI’s followed by RFP and these evaluated and actioned. Given the scale and impact of this project – I think there is the NEED for some conversation


Leave a Reply