Slaves to servers or heads in the cloud?August 2016
Education Review looks at why schools should overcome their fears and leap completely into the cloud.
The cloud seems to be where every school is heading these days. With tools like Google Apps for Education and Teacher Dashboard at teachers’ fingertips, it is easy to understand the appeal of cloud-based technology. Reliance on costly, storage-sparse, maintenance-hungry in-school servers appears to be diminishing rapidly. However, while there is an increasing uptake of cloud services, many schools still have a foot firmly in the server camp.
IT services company Dynamo6 says that such an approach makes life more complex and expensive for schools. The Hamilton and Auckland-based company is in the business of helping schools and organisations move to the cloud. The company launched in 2013 and has experienced exponential growth due to the growing demands for cloud-based solutions.
“Instead of feeding and watering servers, we’re adding value in a different way,” says managing director Igor Matich.
Why are schools still reluctant to move to the cloud?
There is certainly support for schools to use cloud services, from technology companies to the Ministry of Education.
“The Ministry has done a great thing in upgrading the capability for every school to achieve excellent connectivity,” he says.
The Ministry also funds the NZ Schools Microsoft Agreement, which now includes more cloud tools to enable schools to run less infrastructure to support the technology they
The government-funded Managed Network N4L brings fast internet to every school in the country and is compatible with cloud-based systems.
Troy Martin of global Learning Management System (LMS) provider Canvas agrees.
“The New Zealand Government has recognised that technology can have a hugely positive impact across the education sector, and has already made great strides with its programme to connect schools to fibre broadband, and encouraging the use of connected devices in classrooms.”
However, Martin believes progress is being slowed because procurement processes are not keeping pace with technological advances.
“The global education software market was previously based on complex, expensive and restrictive software licenses and ring-fenced, vendor-provided services. Now a new model has evolved, based on developments like cloud-based software, which can be provided and consumed from anywhere, and with open standards that enable API and LTI integrations institutions can use complementary tools, which empower teachers and engages students.”
Matich says schools’ reluctance to become 100 per cent cloud-based stems from a fear of moving out of their comfort zones.
“The issue we have is one of changing people’s behaviour. Many teachers in leadership positions have learned in an era of server-based learning systems. This is what they are used to so it’s natural this is what they are comfortable with.”
Matich says many schools have IT teams dedicated to infrastructure and they have control over the system.
“The problem we often find is the service providers working with the schools don’t take full advantage of all the services on offer to create a low-cost and flexible cloud-based environment,”
“Instead they still use the server as the foundation and this often gets in the way of flexible learning, quick adoption of new learning apps and just costs more to upgrade and manage.
“The main result is the school IT resource is spent on systems management and not supporting the students as they learn. We just think this is a wasted opportunity and affects learning.”
Matich also thinks some might have concerns about data security in the cloud. However, as he points out, people are used to working in the cloud in their everyday personal lives and data security isn’t really an issue.
Young people are becoming accustomed to working any time, from anywhere and on any device. By the time they reach the tertiary sector they come armed with their own tools, their own emails. They don’t want to be restricted by server technology.
“Why would they want to change to infrastructure that’s different from the way they work? Even email isn’t used very much anymore with the proliferation of instant messaging,” said Matich.
He believes schools should be adopting systems that reflect the natural evolution of how people are using technology as they progress through education into higher education and the workforce.
Troy Martin says it’s important for schools and institutions to think about the end user when making decisions about their technology set-up.
“Cloud-architected services that provide an ‘anywhere, anytime, on any platform’ solution for both teachers and learners deliver on the promise of ease of use and high rates of adoption. What we see around the world is that unless procurement is based around driving up user adoption, the tender process quite often fails to find the right solutions for the right problems. It maintains the status quo, rather than adding value to the learning and teaching experience,” he says.
When is it a good time to switch to the cloud?
Matich says he expects two pressures in education will force more schools to completely move to the cloud.
“The first is cost – research shows potential productivity gains of up to 700 per cent for organisations only using cloud-based services.
“The second is the ability to provide the best education possible from cloud-based services – learning can be adapted and tailored quickly and easily, and students can learn anywhere and at any time, in or outside school.”
Matich says it is a great option for new schools and Dynamo6 has implemented cloud-based systems for Hamilton’s new Rototuna Junior High School as well as the new Endeavour Primary School in Flagstaff.
However, it is easier for server-based schools to make the change than they might think. Hamilton Boys’ High School, Otumoetai Intermediate School and St Joseph’s School Onehunga have all implemented cloud-based systems.
Matich says there is often a natural point where schools decide it is time to make a change.
“Things like storage space can prompt a school to move from server to the cloud. Instead of investing capital expenditure on extending storage space, they can take advantage of the cloud.”
Matich says the schools they’ve worked with have not regretted making the switch.
“The feedback we’ve received is ‘wish we’d made the change to cloud earlier’ and ‘we never look back’.
“It’s really liberating for the user. Instead of being restricted by IT controls, they can pick the best tools at their disposal.”