The Main Benefits & Challenges of Cloud Computing in Education

You can probably remember a time when all lecture notes were paper-based. There was something about the tactile feeling of taking handwritten notes that made them more valuable, and both students and lecturers never had to worry about losing them.

But with the advent of cloud computing, that's all changed. Now these valuable notes can be accessed from any device, anywhere in the world, and they're backed up securely in the cloud. Plus, they can be shared among classmates and educators with the click of a button.

This captures the huge shift that cloud computing has brought to education. It has the potential to completely change the way schools offer their services. It’s still in the early days but the benefits are setting a stage for what is expected to be a different education landscape

Cloud computing offers a range of advantages and benefits for students, educators, and administrators alike. We’ll shortly take a closer look at the main benefits of cloud computing in education, not forgetting challenges.

Cloud computing in education

One of the most popular uses of cloud computing in education right now is for online learning through virtual classrooms. This allows students to attend class from anywhere in the world, and it has been shown to improve student engagement and results. In fact, studies have shown that more and more colleges and universities are using or plan to use cloud-based solutions for online learning in the next five years. This has been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic which forced previously hesitant educational institutions to embrace online learning. 

Cloud computing is also being used to manage and store student data. More and more schools are moving away from traditional student information systems and adopting cloud-based alternatives. This allows educators to have easier access to student data and helps improve communication between teachers, parents and students.

Spending on cloud computing in higher education alone is expected to surpass US$ 8 billion in the next five years, accelerated by SaaS solutions. Most education leaders now believe that cloud computing is essential to their organization's ability to future-proof their curriculum. And for good reason: with the ability to instantly access and share data from any device, cloud computing has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn.

It’s no surprise therefore that cloud computing is being used in all areas of education, from K-12 schools all the way up to universities. Some examples include online learning programs, simulation and gaming tools for students, and remote access to labs and equipment.

Examples of cloud computing in education

Here are some insights on how cloud computing is being used in education:

  1. Online Learning: Cloud-based software allows students to access their course materials and submit their work from anywhere in the world. This makes it possible for them to study at any time and from any location.
  2. Collaborative Projects: Groups of students can collaborate on projects using cloud-based tools and storage, which makes sharing and editing files much easier.
  3. eBooks and Digital Notes: Students can now carry their entire textbooks and note-taking materials with them on their electronic devices, thanks to cloud storage.
  4. Remote Tutoring: Tutors can now provide remote assistance to students by using cloud-based tools such as  WizIQ, Scriblar, WebEx, and Zoom .
  5. Streaming Media: Educators can use streaming media services such as Netflix or Hulu to provide video lectures and documentaries to their students.

Some of the top universities that have already adopted cloud computing include Harvard University,  Stanford University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), The University of Oxford, and  The University of Tokyo.

The top benefits of cloud computing in education

Here are the top 8 benefits of cloud computing in education:

1. Cost savings

By moving school administrative functions and student data to the cloud, schools can realize long-term cost savings while improving operational efficiencies. 

Here are five ways that schools are using the cloud to save money:

  1. Storing data in the cloud is cheaper than storing it on-site. Schools don't have to invest in expensive hardware and software to maintain their own servers. Additionally, they can take advantage of economies of scale and pay only for the storage they use.
  2. Schools can use cloud-based software applications, which are often cheaper than traditional on-premise software. This is because there is no need to purchase licenses for each individual application. Instead, schools can subscribe to a service and pay only for the number of users they have at any one time.
  3. Moving email and other communications to the cloud can also save schools money. This is because you don't have to invest in your own email servers and can take advantage of cheaper storage and bandwidth costs.
  4. Using cloud-based learning management systems (LMS) can help schools save money on licensing fees and hardware costs. Additionally, LMSs allow schools to deliver content and courses online, which can save on facilities and energy costs.

2. Increased Collaboration

One of the best things about cloud computing is that it opens up collaboration, allowing students and teachers to accomplish more within a short time. With the right cloud tools, teachers can give students the opportunity to work collaboratively on projects, and students can easily access their work from any device or computer. This creates a more collaborative learning environment, where students can learn from each other and work together to achieve great results.

3. Storage and backup

Cloud computing has eliminated the need for schools to purchase and maintain expensive server hardware and software.

What's more, cloud storage is incredibly secure. Your data is stored in multiple locations, making it practically impossible for it to be lost or damaged.

Here are some top ways schools are using the cloud for storage:

  • Safe storage: All  school data can be safely stored in the cloud, making it easily accessible and secure. Backup is particularly crucial in the event of a crash, because the data can then be retrieved and restored almost instantly. 
  • To manage school curricula: With cloud storage, schools can easily store and share curricula files between staff members and classrooms.
  • Disaster recovery – In the event of a data loss or system crash, cloud backup can quickly restore all affected data and get your school up and running again quickly.
  • Unlimited storage: At the right pricing, cloud storage providers can offer unlimited storage space, so your school can store as much data as is necessary.

4. Flexibility and scalability

The cloud is a very flexible platform and can be scaled up or down as needed. This means that you can easily adapt it to the changing needs of your schools, and can handle sudden spikes in demand during busy periods. For example, if there's a major exam coming up and you need to add more computing power to your system, the cloud can quickly accommodate this without any disruption.

This increased flexibility and agility allows the sector to keep up with the ever-changing needs of students and educators. For example, a school can use the cloud to quickly create more virtual desktops during registration periods or standardized tests. Alternatively, a school could reduce its cloud usage during the summer months to save money.

5. Quick, simple access to resources

Cloud computing provides a quick and easy way for educators to access information. With cloud-based software, teachers can save time by accessing information from any computer or device with an internet connection. 

Teachers can easily create and share course materials with their students, and students can access these materials from any device, instantly. 

Educators can quickly identify and respond to problems. For example, if a student is having trouble accessing a resource, the teacher can troubleshoot the issue immediately with the provider. 

6. Anytime anywhere learning

This is perhaps the most iconic benefit of cloud computing: the ability to learn anytime and anywhere. With cloud-based tools, students can access their course materials and submit their work from any device, at any time. 

This makes it easier for them to fit their studies into their busy lives, and eliminates the need to commute to a physical classroom or lab.

7. Cloud computing encourages innovation

Cloud computing is playing a pivotal role in promoting innovation in the field of education. It has helped to create a more collaborative and interactive learning environment by providing a platform. Educators and students now have a platform where they can easily share robust ideas with a global perspective. 

The ability to instantly exchange ideas amongst students and educators from around the world is revolutionary. This beautiful culture breeds a creative ecosystem where learners can quickly tap into this resource and inspire ground breaking innovations in their fields of study. 

8. Saving the environment (eco-friendliness)

Cloud computing is a great way to save the environment. By taking the world’s educational needs online, we're cutting down on the amount of physical paperwork and resources that are used across schools on a daily basis.

Think about it: if all schools in the world shifted to the cloud-based storage learning environment, we would save an incredible amount of paper, ink, toner, energy, and even classroom space! Not to mention, it would help reduce our carbon footprint and save the planet from further harm.

Further reading: importance of cloud computing

The top challenges of cloud computing in education

Of course the benefits we have outlined will always outweigh the cons by miles, but it’s essential to take note of the following challenges;

1. Security and privacy

When you store your institution’s educational data in the cloud, you are essentially entrusting it to a third party. That party may not have the same commitment to security and privacy as you do, which could leave your data vulnerable to theft or accidental disclosure.

To protect yourself, be sure to read the fine print before signing up for a cloud computing service, and make sure you understand how the service works. Ask questions about data encryption, access controls, and other security features.

2. Integration and interoperability

Many schools struggle with the issue of integration and interoperability with existing systems. This might include a school's student management system, learning management system, and email system.

Since cloud solutions are delivered over the internet, they need to be able to work with the software and hardware that schools are already using. In other words your school’s legacy system must first be able to interface with the incoming cloud systems. This can be difficult to achieve, as different systems often have different specifications and requirements.

For example, a school might be using one grading system for mathematics, another for English, and a third for science. If the school wants to move to a single cloud-based platform, it will need to find a way to integrate all of these systems into one platform. This can be very difficult and time consuming, and in some cases may not even be possible. It’s very easy to leave some data behind or lose some altogether.  

3. Support and training

Getting guaranteed reliable support and training is still a huge challenge with cloud computing. It can be difficult to get your head around all the features and functions of a cloud platform, and even more challenging to implement it in your school. This is also tied to the historical rigidity of some schools that contrasts with the swift agility of cloud providers.. While cloud providers are modern techies to whom speed is everything, schools might tend to be slow and intense on bureaucracies - almost like governments. This means that the methods of support and training that some cloud providers use might not be effective for some institutions. 

Cloud providers will offer modern tech-driven support services, from online manuals and tutorials, to telephone and email support, as virtual training sessions. Make sure you check out what's on offer before you sign up, so you know what kind of support you're getting your school into. 

4. Change management

Migrating to the cloud involves a lot of upheaval and change. It's not as simple as flipping a switch. It's even more daunting for educational institutions that have a lot of complex systems and processes that need to be taken into account. Second, people are naturally resistant to change, and often fear that new technologies will replace their jobs or make their work harder. This includes administrators, teachers, students and parents. In most cases, you're dealing with people who are deeply comfortable with the status quo and may be resistant to change.

As we have also seen, schools are naturally slow to adopt new technologies, due to a combination of bureaucratic inertia. This can lead to frustration among educational leaders who are eager to take advantage of all the benefits cloud computing has to offer.

One solution is to provide more support for teachers and administrators when they are making the switch. This could include training and education on how to use the new tools, as well as support for implementation and troubleshooting. You can also make use of pre-made templates or tools that make the process simpler. Most importantly be sure to have a good communication plan in place. Schools need to ensure that everyone who will be affected by the change knows what's happening, when it's happening, and why it's happening. 

5. Governance

Governance in the context of cloud computing in education is the process by which decisions are made about the use of cloud services in an educational setting. It involves the identification of who has authority to make decisions, and how those decisions will be made.

In a traditional IT setting, the authority lies with the IT department. However, in a cloud-based setting, the authority may lie with the school or district administration, or with individual teachers or students. This can create conflict and confusion about who is responsible for decisions about the use of cloud services. There are also questions about who owns that data, and who has access.

One way to overcome this challenge at industry level is for the education sector to band together and form a consortium. This consortium would be responsible for developing governance standards and ensuring that these standards are adhered to by all members. The consortium would also be responsible for managing the shared resources of its members. There are already similar consortiums such as the Campus Consortium. But there is a need for more comprehensive consortiums with focus on the cloud considering this is going to have a huge impact in the education sector.  

6.Vendor issues and lock in

This happens when your school signs a contract with a cloud provider and then finds that the provider is no longer interested or committed to your business, or decides to raise prices significantly. In addition, the school may be locked into using that provider's services for a certain amount of time, which can limit your ability to switch to a different provider if and when desired.

In the cloud computing industry, vendor lock in is a major challenge that many schools face. This happens when the provider has such a dominant market share that it becomes difficult or impossible to switch to a competing product. This can be a major issue for schools, because it limits your ability to choose the best software and services. For example, if all the computers in your school are running Microsoft Windows, but the school decides they want to switch to Google Chrome OS, you may be unable to do so without significant expense and inconvenience.

7. Less control

Schools have always been in the business of control. You need to be able to track and monitor students, staff, and resources in order to provide a quality education. But with cloud computing, that level of control is becoming harder and harder to maintain. You now have to give up some of the tight control you have traditionally exercised over your students' learning environment and instructional materials. In addition, you must be comfortable with the idea that you will no longer have direct control over the hosting, managing and use of your data and software.

Less control means you are at the mercy of the provider when it comes to aspects such as maintenance and upgrades. This can lead to costly downtime and frustration for teachers and students alike.

Educators also worry that relying too much on the cloud will make students too reliant on technology and unable to think critically or work independently.

8. Unreliable connection

If your school's connection is unreliable or too slow, it can seriously impact your ability to access and use the cloud. This can also happen from the student side. Either way, an interruption in connection can lead to immeasurable frustration.

A good example is real-time online exams. If the connection is unstable, there's a good chance that some students will lose their connection in the middle of the exam. This can lead to a lot of confusion, and it can compromise the integrity of the exam.

Apply these tips to mitigate the challenge of unreliable connection, whenever it occurs:

  1. Provide students with temporary login credentials that expire after a certain time period, or after a certain number of uses, in order to prevent unauthorized access to cloud-based resources in the event of an unreliable connection.
  2. Allow students to continue working on their projects offline, and then upload their work once a reliable connection has been restored.
  3. Implement a cloud storage solution that allows files to be accessed and edited offline, and then synced with the cloud when a connection is available.

Further reading: cloud computing threats

At a glance: benefits and challenges of cloud computing in education

Benefits of cloud computing in education Challenges of cloud computing in education

1.Increased Collaboration

2. Cost savings

3. Storage and backups

4. Flexibility and scalability

5. Quickie, simple access to resources

6. Anytime anywhere learning

7. Cloud computing encourages innovation

8. Saving the environment (Eco-friendliness)

1. Security and privacy

2. Integration and interoperability

3. Support and training

4. Change management

5. Governance

6. Vendor commitment issues and lock in

7. Less control

8. Unreliable connection

Making the transition

Transitioning your institution to cloud computing can seem daunting for starters, but there are ways to make it a smooth process. Here are a few tips:

  1. Start small: Don't try to transition your entire school to the cloud overnight. Start with a small number of classrooms or departments and see how it goes.
  2. Work with an experienced partner: Find a partner who has a lot of experience working with schools and can help you make a smooth switch.
  3. Create a plan: Make sure you have a detailed plan in place for how the transition will work and what steps need to be taken should the transition flop. This will help avoid any surprises down the road.

One of the main reasons schools have been reluctant to make the switch to cloud computing is data security. However, the rise of managed IT services and cybersecurity providers means you have enough options to secure your school’s data in the cloud. These providers have the right resources and tools to manage and support a cloud-based infrastructure.

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