Education Institutions Make the Most of Cloud Technology

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By leveraging cloud technology, higher education institutions are getting on the path of financial success and improved student initiatives.

Cloud office systems have revolutionized the way organizations do business. Unlike the past, when companies had to invest in expensive servers and make sure they have an IT expert on hand at all times, they can now do business in the cloud.

According to research by Neovise and VirtuStream, more than 50 percent of organizations are using either public or private cloud systems. Almost three-quarters of respondents who use infrastructure as a service (IaaS) are using more than one type of cloud, while up to half of these companies use more than one of the same type of cloud. "The results clearly indicate that we have already entered the multi-cloud world and there is no going back," the research stresses. The research also found that more than half of the organizations had started using the cloud within the past year, clearly showing that this is a growing market.

Education institutions are among those organizations which have realized that leveraging cloud technology can be extremely beneficial, especially because it can cut costs for an industry that has long been struggling to keep fees within reach. The advantages can then be passed on to students who can benefit from more accessible education at a non-prohibitive cost.

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Further, cloud technology can be instrumental in increasing access to courses since it gets rid of geographical boundaries. Earlier this year, Harvard and MIT, two of the best renowned colleges in the world, announced their intention to invest in the creation of massively open online courses (MOOCs) that would allow thousands of students to attend a single lecture. Cloud technology is essential for the success of such courses.

As Martha Rogers Ph.D, founding partner of Peppers & Rogers Group, points out, few elements of higher education require students to be physically present on campus. While sports activities remain a big part of the college experience that require a physical presence, even campus-based students are today seeking areas where they can spend some alone time to catch up with their studies. "The location doesn't matter," she notes.

In an interview earlier this year, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates voiced the same belief. "Being there physically doesn't add much value," he told CNN. Instead, Gates' vision of a college of the future sees students watching lectures online by the best experts in each field.

Especially since education is no longer considered the realm of the young but a continuous process for self-improvement, more professionals are seeking to continue with their schooling and trying to find time in their busy schedules to do this. These students benefit greatly from online courses which can be followed at their own time and without requiring them to give up their jobs. Some organizations are also investing in continued education for their staff members.

Changing the face of education

For the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University, cloud technology is leading to drastically reduced costs. Brian Peddle, director of technology at the institution's The Innovation Lab, explains that last year the organization started using Salesforce.com to bring its courses to the cloud and give students the needed IT tools at a fraction of the price. This is especially important since a substantial percentage of the institution's students tend to be blue collar workers who might struggle to afford expensive software on top of their education costs. When Peddle joined the college in September 2012, he started working on the cloud-based infrastructure that allows curriculums to be wholly built within the system. Further, the college has been able to rid itself of the headache of system upgrades and server problems, leading to even more reduced costs. Peddle notes that the speed of cloud technology allows for an agile system, which brings information to students in a short time frame. "Being in the cloud is the only way to go," he notes.

Further, a cloud-based education system can also be extremely beneficial for academics, who are no longer constrained by geographical boundaries when it comes to delivering their courses. As Rogers points out, cloud-based courses have the benefit of flexibility. Colleges are able to open their doors to students from different geographical areas and can also hire academic staffs without having to be concerned about commuting limitations.

Apart from the benefits of increased accessibility, coaches are able to constantly monitor students and provide them with the help they need in real time. Peddle explains that coaches have also benefitted greatly from the new system. Most of them, he says, work remotely, visiting the campus once per week and the cloud-based system is allowing them to be more effective while they're away.

As Mark Bidwell, Netsuite's education program manager, notes, several professors are not interested in dealing with complicated IT issues in order to manage online courses. "In the cloud, IT isn't involved at all," he notes. This makes life easier for professors who can focus their attention on what they do best-teaching and researching. Further, schools can pay for the services and technology they need rather than have to make any large upfront investments.

The cloud makes Big Data more powerful

However, cloud technology isn't just successful in improving courses for students. Educational institutions are also leveraging these systems to collect, store, and share information. As this CNN article notes, many school districts are storing information about their pupils in the cloud. Non-profit organization inBloom's Internet database service is being used by a number of schools to store data about their pupils in one place, allowing them to tailor specific curricula to each child's needs. Cloud systems are able to bring formerly siloed data together in one place, not only making it easier to store the information, but also to analyze it and extract actionable insights that can improve education.

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EXPERT OPINION