8 ways cloud computing may change schools

Over the weekend I struggled with making my votes for this year’s Horizon Report (NZ/Australia version) – partly because I wanted to vote for more than I was entitled to, and partly because so many of the things we were considering individually are now becoming increasingly connected and inter-related.

One of the things that emerged again as a strong contender for inclusion was cloud computing – which also  made last year’s list of 1-2 years to adoption. Without doubt, cloud computing is making its mark across the wider spectre of business as well – and so I was interested to read this week a post by Dion Hinchcliffe on ZNet titled “8 Ways That Cloud Computing with Change Business“.

I’ve always enjoyed Dion’s ability to summarise key ideas in the IT arena, particularly through his use of diagrams such as the one at the head of this post which for me summarises the pros and cons of cloud computing very well both by representing an even number of both the pros and the cons, but by showing the cons as a lesser force, and the pros becoming more dominant.

In considering the 8 statements that Dion has shared from a business perspective, I thought I’d have a crack at presenting some thoughts on how I see cloud computing changing education – in particular, schools – in the near future. (note – I am aware that in some of the ideas represented here I am blurring the boundaries between cloud computing and virtualisation, but the impacts are still valid.)

  1. Reduced and/or simplified expenditure on software licensing –  Software licenses are less of an issue with many cloud-based apps provided free or at very low cost. Increasingly we’ll also see more pay-for-use licensing, and licensing arrangements that take into account the specific needs and use of schools and individuals.
  2. Decreased reliance on school-based ICT staff – fewer applications hosted locally means less to do for school-based technical staff, with their particular skills and abilities diverted to local network and infrastructure needs, or reduced even further through aggregation demand through the provision of on-demand online help desks and remote access support.
  3. Enabling greater ubiquity of access for students and staff – for too long we’ve limited our view of ICT in schools to what happens at the installed desktops in schools (often in labs). Increasingly staff and students are requiring (demanding?) ubiquitous access to their files, applications and social connections – any time, any place, any device. Cloud computing provides a powerful way of achieving this.
  4. Reduce/eliminate problems associated with software version control and updates – using cloud-based applications means that schools will no longer have to worry about the ongoing issue of software updates as they happen automatically in the cloud. No more problems associated with some computers in the school operating one version of the software, and others another – or worse, always being a version behind (or ahead?) at home.
  5. Ease of leveraging benefits of shared management systems (LMS, SMS etc) – currently the bain of most school administrator’s lives, the management systems that are used to help make the running of schools more efficient are tending to be more trouble than they are worth. Using cloud-based applications, or virtualising these services, saves schools having to make large, individual investments, firstly in the software, then in the support inevitably required to make it work in the local contest, them by the hardware required to install and run it on, and lastly in the ever expanding requirements for space, air conditioning and UPIs required to keep them running. Then there’s the advantage of having large-scale, interoperable systems that seamlessly allow for the transfer of data (with permissions granted) between systems so that student learning can continue uninterrupted. (Now there’s something to aspire to!!)
  6. Allows for greater experimentation, choice and agility in terms of applications used – lareg, monlithic applications and the access rights, conditions of use and licensing issues around them are often the most constraining aspect of how ICTs are used (or not) in schools. Consider the rapid adoption of Web2.0 technologies outside of school compared to what happens on the inside. Cloud-based services and applications can provide for more nimble, agile use and access – and allow for lots of smaller products and services to be ‘tried out’ without the requirement of a large-scale commitment.
  7. Reduce barriers to participation, contribution, sharing – identity and access management, a major problem in our current education system, can be resolved more readily in a cloud-based world, allowing far greater degrees of shared access across and among systems and applications. So too, the nature of the applications that allow for greater participation and contribution from individuals because individual accounts can be established and managed more easily, and the content that is created and shared in this way can be stored, managed and retrieved across the whole network.
  8. Infinitely expand resource sharing opportunities – the provision of high quality resources to support teaching and learning remains a key focus in schools. The problem is keeping it all up to date and relevant. Cloud computing options provide unlimited opportunities for shared repositories to develop, with access rights and management issues addressed on a wider scale than within an individual school. In addition, catering for the development of teacher and student developed resources becomes more achievable in the cloud.

Footnote – I realise this is a pretty optimistic list, and as Dion’s diagram at the top of the post reminds us, there are still issues with cloud computing that are yet to be fully resolved. However, I can’t see it disappearing as an opportunity, and my intent here is to provoke some thought about the possibilities and generate more discussion about how we can make this happen.

11 thoughts on “8 ways cloud computing may change schools

  1. Great 8 point you make there. I would be hesitant to support the first and would like to add another one.
    Why do you think this is going to decrease the licensing cost? That so much depends on the offers you will get, and companies must optimize their earnings. Especially a ‘cost per use’ model can become really expensive. Up to now you can just keep on using oder versions (MS office 2003 is still a good product). On the could you will likely only use the latest stuff, and the updating and maintenance (15% / year?) will be included in your usage fees. An alternative would be to open the networks to marketing – does any parent or teacher really want that? So, I think there are good reasons why this will be more expensive.

    Second, the next years there will likely be a mix of standard and cloud software and usage, so the IT staff will be needed still. And you will definitely need more very expensive security experts and lawyers – with all that openness, sharing and copyright issues. Just take a look at many terms and conditions now, and you will see that many companies allow you to use their software when you give them unlimited usage rights of your data. How could this work with a school where kids generate pictures and tests? How about security breaches showing pictures, grades, works, private data?

    I see the benefits, and I appreciate the openness, still I think there are many non technical issues which need to be solved.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Andreas. I don’t disagree with anything you say here – and reiterate that this is an optimistic view, and that there are indeed areas that still need to be explored and resolved.
    My comments about licensing reflect the changes I see coming here – not that it will always be cheaper or always be pay for use (why I said reduced and/or simplified…). Many cloud-based applications are available free or at low cost already, others will incur the sorts of costs we currently have to pay. For some software pay for use will be a better option (eg some of the more expensive, specialised and infrequently used ones), but not for all. It’s the range of opportunities that will increase, enabling more customised approach to making applications available to staff and students.
    I also agree that in the short to medium term we’ll see a mix of standard and cloud based applications used – and that these will need supporting. I also agree that we’ll need more focus during that time on issues of security, data management etc. My point is that with the cloud/virtualisation that expertise will not need to reside in every school – it can be a part of the cloud-based service offering.

  3. Thanks for the post Derek; there’s certainly potential and pitfalls there. I know that schools in one Australian state (NSW) have gone down the pathway of using gmail for student emails in public schools, but I haven’t heard how that’s going. Perhaps the greatest opponents of this transition might be IT departments who aren’t happy about the lack of control of systems and processes this might bring about. I like point number 6 and that word ‘nimble’; it’s hard to be nimble when you’re locked into PowerPoint 2003 and waiting for the next incarnation of tools like that to come along.

  4. Thanks Warrick – re the Google Mail issue, I know of several schools now using this in NZ and with good results so far. My organisation, CORE Education, made the transition to using Gmail across the organisation in the middle of last year, and we’ve been very happy with the result – in terms of reliability, flexibility (for POPing and iMapping etc), and integration with other Google services such as calendar etc.
    One of our main drivers for doing this was the issue of being nimble as you have highlighted, and we certainly feel we’ve achieved this so far.

  5. Great chart!

    As “extracurricular” classes are cut back education will increasingly include web based learning. The current productivity cloud apps will make a great base for integration. Google Cal integrated into teaching and learning tools will create a much more dynamic and tuned relationship between students, teachers and lessons.

    The speed, stability and web penetration is getting to the point where it is all stable enough and useful enough to make some great things happen!

    (guess I am pretty optimistic to 🙂

  6. Hi Derek and warm greetings from Kaunas in Lithuania.
    Two points. First, my ‘cloud’ is Apple’s MobileMe. That subscription service provides iDisk and a “Public Folder” giving full access. Contacts and clients can download and upload from my site. In addition, I can generate or nominate folders for specific topics and purposes. I use iDisk for distributing documents and video internationally.
    Second, experience gained in 32 years of New Zealand teaching suggests New Zealand teachers can share their skills and materials and gain the same from colleagues, anywhere on the planet.
    The matter of behaving responsibly, on the cloud is simple; be responsible. Lawyers are not required.
    Teachers might keep and eye out for Google “Wave” which is on the horizon.
    My suggestion is, be aware of what is responsible interaction and second, share internationally.
    Spread your wings, Kiwis, or, hop on the cloud and ‘fly’ that way. Take the global view.
    Viso gero!

  7. You will be able to use only the things, and update and maintenance (15% / year?) Will be included in the cost. Alternative akan open to network marketing – there are parents or teachers who really want to? So, I think there are good reasons for this will be more expensive.

    Second, there is a possibility next year will be a mix of standards and the clouds and the use of software, so that IT staff will still be required. And the more you will need very expensive lawyers and security experts – all with an open, sharing and copyright issues. Many will only see the terms and conditions now, and you will see many companies that allow you to use the software when you give unlimited usage rights of your data.

  8. Mr Teacher makes an excellent point that fits “the cloud” in schools. I use “the cloud” daily, from my home computer, to share with the world. I have done this since 1980, even before ‘clouds’ appeared on the horizon. No lawyers or security experts were/are/will be needed/involved. I write my own material, form networks and receive, in return material of real value to me and the teachers I train. I do not require IT staff.

    As noted, my ‘cloud’ is MobileMe, Apple’s subscription service. I pay 75 Euros annually for the pleasure. MobileMe provides 20GB of storage (minimum) plus other goodies; Mail, Gallery and so on. My cloud gives me virtually unlimited access rights via iDisk Public Folder or any other folder I nominate.

    No, I am not paid 10% by Apple to spread this information. What I am saying is simple. Get onto the cloud yourself. Don’t wait for your school to make up its mind. Work around the negativity and the cautions. Spread your horizons beyond NZ. Benefit from networks that are simple to establish and enhance the educational experience; yours and others.

    It is easy to be negative; no intellectual energy is required to adopt that stance. Teachers can become involved, independently, with whatever cloud they choose, and for relatively small cost, certainly in terms of the benefits cloud-based interaction provides.

    Go for it!

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