IT Above Campus: Is Cloud Computing Making the Grade in Education?

From kindergarteners to college co-eds, today's schools are filled with what author Marc Prensky called "Digital Natives" almost a decade ago.  Now in class at all educational levels, these Digital Natives and their computers, video games, smartphones and social networks continue to inspire a lot of research on how best to use technology in the classroom to facilitate learning.  It's more than a generational change of fashion.  Technology is literally creating new ways of thinking and learning.  You might say the Web is the ultimate field trip.  But forget off-campus.

Technology professionals working in education are exploring an idea called "Above-Campus Services," an more incarnation of cloud computing in an educational environment.  As a joint article by the CIOs of the University of Indiana and UC Berkeley explained:

"The term above-campus services may frame institutional objectives for IT service aggregation better than the common, all-industries notion of clouds. Above-campus means that for a particular IT service, a sufficient level of aggregation for efficiency cannot be achieved within one campus but, rather, must be achieved at a higher level of aggregation, beyond a single institution. Efficiencies may be realized in aggregating personnel, expertise, licensing, business continuity, and other benefits far beyond simply joining computer hardware.

For IT professionals in education, the subject of cloud computing is multifaceted. A new report by the State Education Technology Directors Association defines four key strategies for achieving education goals:

  1. Building a 21st Century Infrastructure
  2. Supporting Educator Effectiveness
  3. Developing and Scaling Innovative Learning Models
  4. Preparing All Students for College and 21st Century Careers

These strategies impact student-facing services, cloud-based learning management systems and back-end infrastructure.  They are also instructive for service providers who want to target education for cloud computing services.  At all levels of the public sector, there is tremendous momentum for moving toward the cloud. A recent tracking poll by CDW found that 74 percent of public sector institutions are adopting or planning to adopt cloud services.  Despite a weak economy and efforts to minimize government spending, the poll indicated public support for investing in education technology.  For the 2011-12 academic year, education IT professionals believed their IT budget would either increase (26.5%) or remain the same (37.0%).

The stakes are just as high, and in some ways higher, than cloud computing in the enterprise. There's a special urgency when your users are children, especially in terms of privacy and security.  In fact the stakes are so high, worldwide, that the United Nations has weighed in with a policy brief.  In their analysis, the UNESCO Institute for Information Technology in Education outlines some of the unique issues that shape an educational institution's cloud computing decisions, including "unique requirements relating to their teaching methods, examination regulations, funding regimes, government policies and legal issues..."

The benefits of cloud computing in education are already beginning to overshadow the complexities and challenges. CDW's poll found that higher education is second only to large enterprises in cloud services initiatives, with 34 percent of higher education institutions in the cloud compared to 37 percent of large enterprises.  Not to be outdone by their college colleagues, 27 percent of K-12 educational institutions said they are implementing cloud services or are already maintaining them.  When asked about more basic cloud services such as Google Docs and Gmail, the number grows to 87 percent. Service providers clearly have opportunities to benefit from cloud services interest and investment in public education at all levels.

Written by Michael Standley at 00:00
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