Cloud technology has positively disrupted industries internationally. Whether in healthcare, finance or law, the benefits have been immense. This trend has held true in the world of education as well. Personal computers and the internet have become integral mainstays on every campus over the past several decades. But as the virtual world has melded with the actual world, there has been a real need for even more accessibility. Due to its inherent qualities of reliability, flexibility and reasonable cost, Cloud technology is the solution that has successfully addressed the accessibility issue for quality education.
Cloud has sparked a revolution in higher education
With Cloud, students are no longer tied to their lecture hall desks and textbooks. Now, live chats, video conferencing, online assessments and virtual labs, have truly made the world a classroom, and all but eliminated the factors of geographical distance and time.
Working parents, high-performance athletes, individuals with disabilities, people who work night and swing shifts, are able to partake in a ‘regular’ educational experience with cloud computing.
Betty Pearson, for example, is a young, promising athlete who travels the world participating in track and field competitions. Her schedule precludes her from attending a traditional college and daily lectures, however she has a dream to pursue a degree in programming at a leading university. In years past, Betty would have had to decide between her passions. Now, Betty attends instructor-led online sessions, submits assignments, practices coding in virtual labs and takes exams online from all over the world.
Cloud has made this possible.
Explosion of cloud platforms, apps and educational technology
Though Google’s Eric Schmidt first used the word ‘cloud computing’ in 2006, it was AWS which was the pioneer in the cloud platforms arena, launching its Elastic Compute services the same year. They were closely followed by Microsoft’s Azure, then IBM cloud. Despite coining the phrase, Google had a late start, with an initial release only in 2011!
AWS has continued to be the market leader, with amazing spurts of growth over the years.
A timeline of how cloud arrived in the higher education and learning sector
Let’s consider the main players:
- Universities – Physical and Online
- Cloud Platforms – AWS, Azure, Google
- Online education providers – Lynda.com, Khan Academy, Simplilearn
- MOOC Platforms – Udacity, Udemy, Coursera, edX
- Corporate – Cisco
Corporate and educational institutions have been using cloud technology in the form of cloud based apps for a long time. Even Gmail is a cloud app, after all. In the 1990s, fully online universities such as, New York University Online, Western Governors’ University, the California Virtual University and Trident University International mushroomed, providing online courses.
As cloud slowly started picking up steam among corporations, universities also started exploring the possibilities of taking advantage of the many benefits that cloud offered.
In 2012, a Gartner Group study found that 49% of educational institutions were already involved in some type of cloud computing, with 67% expected to be by year-end. Despite the fact that cloud was being used for educational operations, it still took some time before cloud entered the classroom.
Today, universities use cloud technology in higher education for:
- Virtual Classrooms – Teachers can have face-to-face interactions with students who are geographically distributed. This can give universities the opportunity to enroll a very diverse population of students.
- Resolving the textbooks issue – Universities are able to eliminate the need for expensive textbooks by providing e-books and video materials to students online. This reduces the cost of education for the facility and for the students, and ensures that students from economically disadvantaged areas do not have to make-do with outdated information.
- Cloud-based apps and storage – When students can use services like Google Drive and Dropbox to store files, the necessity to invest in personal storage devices is minimized. Also, software purchases become obsolete when they can obtain word processors and spreadsheets online through Google Docs to complete and submit assignments.
- Virtual Labs – Students can apply their learning from instructor-led sessions in online labs that are safe, convenient, and accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Although AWS had started offering Elastic Compute in 2006, it was three years before the pioneer decided to provide education grants to universities. As per their blog, ‘AWS in Education program is designed to allow the academic community to take advantage of the Amazon Web Services for teaching and for research. Educators, academic researchers, students, and student entrepreneurs from all over the world can apply for free AWS usage credits in the form of teaching grants, research grants, and project grants.’
Today, more than 7,000 education customers use the AWS Cloud to lower IT costs, launch student analytic initiatives, and prepare students for STEM careers.
Following on their heels, Microsoft Azure offered grants to students and researchers, providing 12 months free subscriptions to Windows Azure for faculty, and 6 months free subscriptions for students. Combined with the Microsoft Office 365 program (Microsoft Office Suite, OneDrive, etc.), Microsoft has enabled thousands of instructors and students to easily collaborate and further their educations.
Google Cloud announced their grants program late in 2016. But theirs remains restrictive, allowing educators from only a handful of countries to partake in their program, so far.
Online Education Providers
Private enterprises such as Lynda.com emerged in the 1990s, piggybacking on the dot com boom and providing online software training services in the form of educational videos.
In 2009, Simplilearn started as a simple blog providing tips on cracking the PMP certification exam. Since then, the company has expanded providing online courses in various technical subjects such as Data Science, Big Data and Machine Learning. Simplilearn also offers virtual labs where students can practice their knowledge in safe environments at their own convenience.
MOOC or Massive Open Online Course exploded into the education scene in 2012, providing millions of people access to high quality education from top universities across the world within the convenience of their homes. Coursera, edX and Udacity platforms flourished allowing universities like Stanford, Harvard and Columbia to offer online courses in a range of subjects. In 2012, the number of enrollments in MOOC Platforms was 1.5 million, which quickly grew to 58 million students in 2016.
Corporations first introduced e-learning using cloud tech in 1997. Cisco Networking Academy was one early example. Since then, they have been delivering free learning opportunities, assessments, and instructional support through cloud technology to educational institutions around the world.
Managing cloud in educational universities
Despite the immense benefits cloud has to offer institutions, it does come with some limitations that become more complex when universities opt for a multi-cloud solution. Some common issues include:
- Improper management – Lack of training in implementation or use with Cloud can lead to cloud sprawls or inefficient utilization. For example, a virtual lab left open and untended will add costs irrespective of actual usage.
- Security – Proper cloud monitoring to ensure security is paramount, particularly given the recent spree of cyber-attacks. In 2017, a Russian hacker is reported to have breached cyber data in 63 universities in the US.
- Regulation compliance – Universities must comply with the GDPR. Creating, implementing and maintaining firm cloud data policies is a necessity for compliance.
CoreStack is a leading cloud management and governance platform that promotes effective consumption, operation and optimization of cloud services. We are here to help universities and online educational institutions implement sound cloud management and governance solutions.
How CoreStack helps
Decrease deployment time by up to 70% with automation
CoreStack’s cloud governance and management features enable institutes to use ‘templates’ to automate the deployment of lab training environments for various courses. This helps reduce manual efforts and dramatically speeds up the deployment process.
Automated infrastructure scalability
To adequately meet the varying levels of demand, infrastructure scalability is automated.
With automated de-provisioning, lab environments are automatically shut down after their stipulated time period.
Event driven automation to improve efficiency
CoreStack’s event-driven automation feature eliminates the need for manual intervention for minor issues. This reduces manual maintenance costs.
Ensuring availability of lab during high demand
CoreStack enables online learning providers to increase lab availability to 99.99%