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The School of Virtualization: The Benefits of Cloud Computing for K-12 Classrooms

Little cute girl As cloud computing grows, much of the focus has been centered on how it allows more sophisticated interaction between businesses and clients, along with more efficient internal productivity. The IT approach goes well beyond business productivity and application complexity, though. The system could potentially save lives: it allows medical researchers to process huge amounts of data affordably and quickly, as we covered in a previous piece. It also is changing the way in which we teach and learn. Savings & broad benefits for education and other sectors Last year, education technology site THE Journal conducted surveys of schools, as well as various other types of organizations, to gauge the growth of cloud computing. Its finding suggest that the strategy doesn’t just play a strong role in academia: it actually is more impactful in some ways than it is for the average economic sector. The publication reported that the technology would reach 25% of IT budgets for K-12 schools by this year and would make up more than a third of budgets by 2017. A CDW Government study revealed that the top use for the solution in K-12 environments is rather simple: storage, which represented 40% of use. Two other types of applications were close behind storage, though: collaborative and conferencing tools, at 36%, and office workflow applications, at 33%. The breakdown of the model’s adoption in childhood education is similar to that seen elsewhere in the for-profit, government, and nonprofit spheres: storage and conference/collaboration are generally the most widely used applications, as a 2013 report from CDN clarifies. Additional popular reasons it is used across all types of organizations include its raw processing power, along with operational and messaging tools. Those organizations that have deployed distributed virtualization solutions – among all organizations, not just education – had reduced their costs on applicable services by 13% in 2013, with that number expected to reach 17% this year and 25% in 2017. Education savings are actually better than the average at 20% projected for 2014, 27% projected for 2017. Benefits of the cloud for all fields are understood through analysis of the study’s survey responses, as indicated below. Note that the percentages exceed 100% because respondents were asked to check “all that apply”:
  1. Efficiency/productivity – 55%
  2. Mobile access for staff – 49%
  3. Creativity/innovation – 32%
  4. Reduced strain on tech department – 31%
  5. Research/development/deployment of new offerings – 24%.
Additional benefits of the cloud for education Pearson School Systems notes a number of ways that the cloud is especially helpful to the field of education. Pearson’s thoughts are applicable in part to general academic IT but also specifically to the classroom:
  • Real-time backup – The approach allows for real-time saving of materials so nothing is lost if a tool on an individual teacher’s device fails. Regardless of any problems that arise on one computer, documents are still intact and can be accessed from another device.
  • Storage – Teachers and students are able to store any types of files within the cloud. Due to the strategy’s elasticity and affordability, large files do not pose problems.
  • Access – Teachers and students can access files from anywhere – in the classroom, at home, or through mobile devices.
  • Collaboration – The model makes it easy for teachers to work together on projects and for students to work on group assignments. Anyone with access can revise documents, with the new version reflected simultaneously. This aspect allows for ideas to be enhanced by teamwork and for lesson plans to be built synergistically.
  • Paper and time reduction – As the IT system makes it easier to conduct tasks through the Internet, teachers no longer need to expend time and budget on printing and copying. Students can view and sometimes complete homework online, and they can access reading materials and other educational resources as well.
  • Homework – Specifically with regards to homework, teachers can detail projects and assignments using virtualized tools. Students can access task pages from anywhere and post their work in response. The work is easily saved and can be graded by the teacher thereafter. Assignments don’t need to be collected in class, saving time and making flu bugs less likely to spread.
Dr. Matthew Lynch addresses benefits of the cloud for schools as well in Education Week, covering some different terrain. He states the advantages of the cloud as follows:
  • Improved communication – Lynch notes that a portal such as Edline allows everyone involved in an academic setting access to classroom materials. Parents can check their children’s assignments and grades from any location, at any time. Teachers can make announcements to everyone involved in the class. It also allows all parties easy, organized, and reliable access to past and future assignments. If desired, forums can be created to enable direct interaction between parents, teachers, and/or students.
  • Disaster preparedness – One crucial component of any IT infrastructure is disaster planning. Schools amass data about students that helps determine paths forward for all involved. If the records of the school are compromised by any type of disaster, whether they are stored on file cabinets or on hard drives, all that student data could be lost. By virtualizing all that information, the school knows it will always be available within a system structured to allow many redundancies.
  • Centralization & ease – As indicated briefly above, one of the strongest attributes of this strategy is its ability to integrate various programs and sets of data. The approach doesn’t require an investment in hardware, and billing is based on use, making it a cost-effective and simple solution to deploy.
  • Recovery – With this model, crashes and loss of data are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The system operates smoothly despite any failures of specific hardware or software components. If data is lost at one location, getting a backup copy is fast and simple.
Cloud computing is gradually taking hold throughout the field of education, as evidenced by 25% of K-12 budgets. The benefits of this model are manifold, with efficiency seen as especially critical by IT executives. The model makes homework assignments more accessible; enhances disaster preparedness; and fosters communication between parents, teachers, and students.