Making the case for the cloud
Cloud usage is on the rise. In 2014, schools delivered only 42 percent of their IT solutions fully or partially via cloud. In just two years, that number jumped to 67 percent and in three years, K-12 IT pros expect that number to reach 74 percent, according to CDW-G’s K-12 Cloud Possibilities infographic.
Those numbers are impressive. However, for the 33 percent of schools that have not yet taken the cloud plunge, many are asking, where do I begin? Is it worth it? There are seemingly an overwhelming number of providers, options and approaches.
I have a fair amount of experience with cloud and the many, many possibilities. I’m a former educator, who helped my school with its venture into the cloud ‚Äì so I was also once the newcomer trying to make sense of it all. And now I work for a technology solutions provider, where I engage directly with schools and districts, communicating the benefits, challenges and impacts of technology in the classroom ‚Äì including cloud. While solutions should be specific to the school there are some overarching benefits that apply to all of K-12.
At this point, most people are familiar with the cost savings, reliability and manageability afforded by cloud. But the promise of cloud has the potential to extend far beyond technology and operational gains. Cloud enables schools and districts to be forward-thinking ‚Äì delivering digital curriculum, improving communication with community and parents, enabling teachers to connect with students in new ways, freeing IT teams to work on innovative technology applications in the classroom and improving classroom innovation. The possibilities are endless.
Here are a few of the ways I have seen cloud used to directly impact education.
To improve instructional time quality and student performance: These are benefits K-12 IT pros put ahead of reducing costs and burden associated with managing on-premises systems. At a high level, this means using cloud to optimize classroom time. For example, a school may use cloud-based programs and content to reinforce curriculum concepts
For identity management and authentication: Students can quickly reset their own passwords and teachers can stay out of the technology process ‚Äì reducing technology disruptions and consequently increasing instructional time
To enable teachers to access resources at home: They can also use cloud to provide students with materials they need to continue with an alternative day of learning ‚Äì potentially eliminating, or at least minimizing, the disruption of snow days
To analyze their data: Schools use cloud data ‚Äì such as students’ performance on tests, homework and reports ‚Äì to make more informed decisions about how to meet each child’s unique educational needs
Enabling collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking: This includes solutions like Google Hangouts, Skype, collaborative platforms and connected classrooms. Cloud also enables global learning opportunities ‚Äì connecting students here in the U.S. with children in other countries
The cloud is making an impact on education. It means schools have an opportunity to transcend technology, enabling innovative ways of teaching and learning. So how do you make that transition to cloud or take your current cloud to the next level? Begin by considering the following questions:
Is moving to the cloud a systemic, supportable and sustainable change?
Systemically, is the cloud solution something that is interoperable with existing tools or systems?
Do you have continuous professional development and training in place to ensure your school or district can fully utilize and support cloud?
Does your district have the infrastructure and financial stability to sustain this change?
As I mentioned above, there are many options. And while it would be ideal to look at them all and simply weigh the perceived pros and cons, doing so can sometimes be overwhelming.
My recommendation is to first look at the possible cloud benefits and prioritize what you want cloud to do for your school or district. It is important to recognize that while cloud stands to benefit the entire district in a variety of ways, everything we do as district stakeholders should be about what is best for our students.
For instance, does standardizing your district on a collaborative platform better prepare our students for their future? Or does moving your grading and attendance system to the cloud ‚Äì where parents can more proactively receive communication and monitor student performance and attendance ‚Äì better prepare our students for their future?
Collaboratively prioritizing these changes by addressing the primary goal, as well as the secondary goals for your district will help best determine what solutions you should consider.
After you have identified your goals related to the cloud, continue your research by examining public, private and hybrid cloud options. Selecting one will further narrow your search.
While more schools are using private cloud today, three years from now 52 percent of K-12 IT pros believe they will implement more public cloud and 40 percent believe they will implement more hybrid cloud. This indicates that schools’ comfort with cloud ‚Äì including public cloud models where they may perceive they have less “control” ‚Äì is growing.
Look at the options and see what solution best meets your goals. It’s safe to say that regardless of the solution or option you choose, it is imperative to consider the safety and security of your staff and students. There may be additional solutions you need to purchase, such as a cloud access security broker, to ensure that protection. Finally, begin to weigh the options.
Talk with your trusted solutions provider and, most importantly, your peers. Sixty-seven percent of your fellow schools and districts are using cloud in some capacity. Ask them what they are using and how it is working for them. Ask them for their recommendations. They will be able to share their challenges and successes, as well as describe how cloud is impacting their learning communities.
Once you make the choice you can begin, or continue, moving to the cloud and unleashing the amazing potential it has to offer. Ultimately, cloud can help your district achieve the goal of doing what’s best for your students and their future.
—Mike Patterson is a K-12 Education Strategist for CDW-G
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