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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.