‘The cloud’ isn’t one particular ‘thing’ or ‘position’, many schools can be ‘in the cloud’, but have completely different set ups and ways of working. ‘The cloud’ refers to anything managed and hosted online as opposed to on local servers and computers, but this doesn’t necessarily mean a school can’t be in the cloud and have onsite servers and often this is the first step for many schools.
Why should I consider the cloud?
Cloud computing can bring a number of benefits to schools and Trusts over running a traditional server-based network. For example:
Ease of learning
All new educational technology, including the apps that teachers will use to teach is being developed to be cloud-ready. Whilst there may still be a number of really useful older resources (even running on CD’s) that the teachers at your school love, it’s not the best way to have up-to-date curriculum resources. In addition cloud apps allow students to learn wherever they are and have the same experience in school as at home. There are also an incredible amount of subtle tools to help all manner of students, for example the Immersive Reader in Microsoft Edge that helps students that struggle with reading, whether that’s by reading aloud, changing the background and font colours and size, splitting out syllables in words and more. At a device level, newer laptops will have less stored on them (with more stored in the cloud), meaning that they can boot up faster than older devices, improving the classroom experience.
Cloud apps allow greater collaboration between teachers and students, schools and academies within Trusts and between schools and parents. This is mostly down to the ability to access work and resources wherever you are – something that has been critical to many schools and businesses being able to continue working over the last few years. On top of this, file management is improved with users able to work off the same files, decreasing storage requirements and saving time when bringing together a document that historically would have needed to be passed around with the latest comments.
Improved work-life balance
Very closely linked to collaboration, one of the biggest benefits that staff experience when using a cloud based set up is the ability to work when suits you. Outside of core school hours, using cloud technologies can mean that teachers can leave the school at 4pm, run some chores and then get back to marking later that day, should they wish, rather than have to stay physically in school until it’s done. A really tangible time-saving benefit of Microsoft Teams, for example, is the ability for teachers to create quizzes for students, pre-populate the answers as well as some feedback on the incorrect answers, effectively marking the checkpoints for the teacher.
There are many ways for schools to save money with cloud computing. The most obvious is through reducing physical hardware, whether that’s removing or reducing the number of servers or reducing the specification needed for laptops due to less pressure of cloud apps than local apps on the device, meaning you can now get a perfectly usable laptop in a cloud environment for ~£200 instead of £400+. In addition to this, a school not running a physical server will also benefit from better green credentials with less energy required for both the server and the associated additional infrastructure required; over time this can really add up.
Cloud devices and infrastructure receive regular updates from manufacturers (of both hardware and software) and ensures that the latest threats can be protected against, both reducing the chance of malware and ransomware, but also allowing you to avoid downtime in class. Manufacturers constantly try to break into their own services to find potential security flaws before the wrong people do, allowing them to patch it before this flaw is exploited. Network teams can also force security updates at appropriate times (e.g. overnight) meaning that devices and the network can remain up to date without disrupting teaching.
Training students for their futures
It’s often correctly pointed out that students pick up technology instantly due to being born with it. Whilst this is true, there is a significant difference between being able to use an iPad quickly to share files and understanding how to utilise Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom to collaborate on work with other students and teachers and get real-time access to results and feedback. There’s often a number thrown around stating that X% of jobs of the future don’t exist yet, what is clear is that most of these will involve technology in some capacity and with that will all involve cloud technology. In addition, jobs that traditionally didn’t use technology are seeing it become more important than ever and so exposing your students to it early, students can be prepared, whether they go to college or university, a traditional office job, working in retail, distribution or medicine, they’ll be more prepared. Furthermore, ‘the cloud’ may well be old technology in 10 years’ time, but by training students on it now, it will allow them to adapt to an as-yet-unknown style of working later in their careers by ensuring they embrace technology.
Efficiency of device management
Cloud devices and networks require less management as well as being able to be managed from anywhere. Cloud management tools can also help save time in provisioning new devices and save money in lower support and maintenance costs with less to go wrong than in a traditional network. Whether you have an in-house technician or IT support partner, they can spend more time helping engage teachers and students to allow better use of technology to improve teaching, rather than managing and fixing tech issues.