Cloud computing conjures a lot of images but is essentially being able to access computer resources from anywhere on the Internet. Cloud services have emerged from necessity, evolved through reliability and usability, and continue to thrive on scalability. The benefits of switching to a cloud environment are quick implementation, anytime access, lower upfront and hardware costs, and lower ongoing maintenance costs. The easiest way to think about cloud computing is having your IT department on the web. This eliminates the need for in-house infrastructure – servers, software, and personnel. Unlike traditional software based in a local computer, cloud computing applications are designed for multiple users and are the best option for students and educators.
The very first network was the “sneakernet”. I had to physically carry punch-cards, then tapes and finally floppy disks from one computer to another to share information. Then came the modem and I could send and receive files over a phone line, but I had to keep a copy of everything locally. In the late 90’s Yahoo was launched and I got the email address I have had for nearly 15 years – mostly to email myself attachments, so that those files sat on Yahoo’s “cloud” servers and I did not have to rely solely on my very undependable Windows computer. Since then there have been many attempts at file storage on-line but the King Kong of the Cloud is Google and it’s immense array of free (advertisement driven) and pay services. As a college student in the new century I use many Cloud applications: Angel, Proquest, Sharepoint sites, and I keep most all of my files in my email and Google Docs or on my network drive at BTC, making them accessible from anywhere I can get on the net. But there is another compelling reason for utilizing the Cloud in education: it is engaging and helps students learn more efficiently .
Cloud computing has a prominent role to play in our classrooms. The technology provides an alternative to real-world schooling and encourages personal, interactive and group learning, regardless of geographical location. There is evidence that using technology can help students absorb information more efficiently because it is engrossing and can be customisable as well as structured by both students and instructors. (Marcoux 2011) This makes it desirable as a teaching as well as a cost reduction tool.
Many colleges struggle with providing sufficient hardware or software to give students a complete educational experience. This problem is especially pronounced in the technical fields. Schools have overloaded infrastructures – shorthanded staff, budget cuts, and higher than ever enrollments. Cloud computing can solve many of these problems. For support staff, a distributed system can substantially reduce their load, making once location dependent applications available across nationwide or statewide school networks. Virtual classrooms allow for more capacity without building new classrooms. Software is available that provides solutions to many education needs beyond online learning: accounting of grades, registration and records and human resources. (Katzan, 2010) These reductions in overhead and costs make cloud computing the perfect fit for educational institutions.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by those considering switching to cloud providers is the safety of their data. Cloud vendors have been trying to alleviate those fears since the beginning. How can you know your data is safe? What happens if you switch providers or a provider goes out of business? Can you get those files back? Is encryption keeping sensitive information safe? In 14 years of using Yahoo, 5 years of Google, 3 years of Angel and 1 year of Sharepoint I have NEVER lost a file because of the service provider, it has always been my error. They have redundant, multiple-site and off-site backups that I, as well as many educational institutions, could never reproduce for the same cost.
Cloud computing is producing new opportunities to expand education. It is a better, more engaging learning experience for the student and a timesaver for instructors. Resources can be used more efficiently, even as they decrease because of budget cuts. This makes cloud computing the best option for students, educators and educational institutions.
Katzan, H.. (2010). The Educational Value Of Cloud Computing. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 3(7), 37-42. Retrieved November 1, 2011, from Proquest database.
Marcoux, E.. (2011). Technology and YOU. Teacher Librarian, 38(5), 66. Retrieved October 26, 2011, from ProQuest database.
Cloud Computing in Education is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.