Role of Cloud in Education Sector
Technology invades the working of every industry and sector. Technology can overwhelm people. Technology can present big, challenging questions to those who are expected to adopt it. Technology can force you to make unprecedented financial decisions whose impact you do not fully understand.
Education is no exception. If anything technology adoption becomes even more challenging for education. There are several reasons for it. Firstly, in no country, no society is there ever enough money for educational needs. Educators even in the most developed countries struggle to get adequate finances for catching up with society’s need for education. In a country like ours it is not even a matter of debate. It is a given. There isn’t enough money going into education. When educators are struggling to fund the basics, would they have any inclination to fund new-fangled ideas that technologists keep coming up with everyday?
Second problem is that there are too many stakeholders in the education sector. Funding agencies (government or otherwise), administrators, teachers, students, parents and society as a whole. Even if one of them is convinced about the merits of new technology, convincing all others would not be as easy.
Third problem is the apprehension educators and users about the disruption a new technology will bring, the technical knowhow they would be expected to acquire and the overheads maintaining the technical infrastructure will bring. Despite these problems technology is our way of life. We cannot run away from it. Definitely not in education, which has to prepare the students for future. Cloud comes to our assistance here. Cloud or cloud computing is a umbrella term to describe a variety of computing concepts which involve large number of computers that are connected through a real time communication network. It’s practical manifestations for technology users are seen in
1. SaaS (Software as a Service) products: SaaS is a software delivery model in which software and associated data are centrally hosted on the cloud.
2. Availability of on-demand computing resources: Cloud computing makes it possible for users to obtain, configure and deploy computing resources on demand. It makes it possible to acquire infrastructure when needed without having to purchase them for good.
SaaS is an answer to many problems educational institutes face in adopting technology. Cloud hosted SaaS products do not require on-premise deployment of IT infrastructure. This makes the upfront infrastructural costs very low or even zero. Using SaaS also means that here is no ongoing infrastructure management required as the management of cloud-based server is taken care of by the software provider. The software provider benefits from scale as his infrastructure is being used by many customers. The benefit is passed on the customers in the form of lower and usage-based ongoing costs. A huge benefit comes from on-demand, and practically infinite scalability of SaaS products. You can start as small as you want and grow as large as you can. Since there is no or little upfront commitment, it is easier to experiment with new technology. If not all teachers are excited about a new tool claiming to enhance peer interactions in the class, those who are can start using it. If it shows positive results, other teachers and other stakeholders will also get convinced and come onboard. Even if there isn’t an institute-level commitment, given low costs individual teachers might be able to use the products even with their own limited funds. You can also scale up an initiative in accordance with the funding available. Since it is easier to experiment, administrators and management can easily find out which technology projects have promised positive outcomes. With proven utility, such projects will get support from funding agencies too.
On-demand computing resources present a very interesting opportunity for educational institutes, especially in higher education and research. In a number of fields including Computer Science, Biotechnology, Genetics, Statistics, and even Market Research, academicians and researchers are dealing with increasingly large amounts of data. Processing and analyzing such huge data requires very high levels of computing resources. In earlier days academicians were limited by the computing power available in-house. But now acquiring computing resources is not a long-drawn process. They can use cloud servers whenever they need, and only for the time they need it. This keeps the costs under control, while giving them access to cutting-edge infrastructure.
The potential of using cloud-computing resources need not be limited to higher education and research though. The same can be used by learners and teachers at all levels. The benefit of cloud is that it makes good quality computing resources and software accessible and affordable. If you are an educator looking to adopt and experiment with technology, but without taking huge financial risks for it, you should take a serious look at cloud-based solutions. And if you are a technology vendor, who is finding it difficult to crack the education sector, consider cloud architecture for your product, using which you can bring the cost of ownership down and help people try it out. There is no better way to convince someone than to show them the benefits of a product in action.
(The author is Head of Product & Marketing, Aurus Network. She is also a co–founder and director at Pothi.com.)
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