Taking cloud back to the classroom

By utilising cloud technologies, universities can provide scalable, cost-effective and flexible learning systems. Mark Keepax explains all

By Mark Keepax, SVP ASG Software Solutions

Universities are essential in generating economic growth for the UK and nurturing tomorrow’s business leaders. But with yet another depressing year of cuts to teaching and spending budgets, many have had no option but to take the unenviable step of raising student fees, leaving graduates with astronomical lifetime debts. 

In addition, the annual cuts in public funding have left institutions squeezing almost every penny out of scarce resources and historical IT systems in an attempt to drive efficiency. Many of which were never performing that well to begin with.

Enter the cloud. By utilising cloud technologies, universities can provide scalable, cost-effective and flexible learning systems – reinvigorating the traditional syllabus. So with the growing demand for graduates and the competition for the 82,000 annual applicants nearing boiling point, it begs the question as to why the cloud is merely a consideration and not yet a necessity.

A business decision 

For many enterprises the implementation of new technologies such as the cloud comes as a result of pressure from the end-user. Likewise, the advent of mobile technologies outside of the classroom has revolutionised the way in which students learn and access information. Within minutes students can dissect an entire course syllabus, discuss lectures and share information with friends via social networks, and accessing even the most obscure global libraries – all at the click of a button. 

Universities need to move away from being stuck in the 20th Century in order to become hubs of innovation and learning, equipped with the latest and greatest technologies and subsequently graduates. Some institutions have already welcomed the cloud with open arms including Kings College London, which has already revamped its network to support the BYOD trend. It now allows personal devices access to core university applications and flexible learning tools.

A major cost saving is integrating existing legacy IT systems with newer cloud management processes, such as the service catalogue, at the cost of just pennies per head – available using the existing fees structure. Secure infrastructures allow the sharing and access of information cost effectively on any mobile device, keeping admin and student fees to a minimum – a dream come true for many.

Campus cloud 

The future of higher education relies on students having access to a plethora of information, resources and learning tools, regardless of their chosen university, course, location or device.

By embracing the cloud, university staff and lecturers will be able to provide an interactive experience for students. Lectures and seminars can be delivered from the comfort of their sofa via universally free applications such as Skype. The submission of coursework can be further simplified, completed and controlled using online applications such as Box. Course content such as videos, podcasts, images can all be shared and accessed within seconds via the cloud, significantly improving the quality of learning ‘on demand’ on any internet connected device.

Collaboration is no longer a value-add but a must, and with cloud packages universities can collaborate more effectively with fellow academia, encouraging more valuable relationships with international schools via the cloud. For example an online lecture could contain participants from around the world, collaborating on a single, shared document.

It also allows universities to foster and develop stronger relationships and partnerships with the business world. For example, a school that specialises in engineering can now work more collaboratively with major automotive firms through the cloud package applications. 

Whilst there is still a way to go before all UK universities are successfully utilising cloud technologies, the benefits are clear. Universities need to wake up to the realisation that the cloud is a cutting edge, long-term solution to attracting, retaining and producing the best business minds and boosting efficiency in the wake of more budget cuts. The provision of innovative IT systems is not only a long term cost saving but an investment in providing a creative, open and quality education.