Weighing up the move to the Cloud

Ian Nairn discusses how schools can use the Cloud to achieve the best outcomes for their students

Cloud-learning services are seeing a huge uptake in UK schools, as they move towards a technology-driven lesson delivery model. The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) estimates that by 2016 nearly one million tablets will be in use in UK schools.

To put it simply, ‘Cloud technology’ means IT services which do not require servers and hard drives and are instead hosted online in ‘the cloud’. Cloud technology includes devices like tablets and Chromebooks, core services such as Google Play for Education (Google’s online store where apps can be purchased for Android devices) plus a multitude of web-based resources and Virtual Learning Environments. 

Apple currently hold the largest market share, but Google’s new Play for Education service means that for the first time there is a viable competitor for schools to consider. Google Chromebooks and Android tablets can use Play For Education to purchase all the popular online Education Apps previously available only in Apple’s App Store. Google Cloud devices benefit from the same quick start-up time, long battery life and easy information sharing between devices, only at a more cost effective price.

Challenges

Moving to a Cloud-based IT system is a big change for schools, who must ensure that the correct conditions are in place before investing in it. Cloud-learning needs to be supported by a robust infrastructure – good broadband and wireless are crucial. Schools should have 10Mbps of Internet capacity for every 100 connected students.

When purchasing, decision-makers must review the technology carefully with a focus on the impact on learning, rather than rushing to purchase the latest technology without a clear idea of how teachers might use it in the classroom.

Also, all staff members need to be fully supported to move toward a different delivery model in lessons, as all technology impacts on the way a lesson is taught.

Key benefits

There are many benefits to be gained by moving to the Cloud. The flexibility of Cloud-based technology helps schools deal with the varying demand for IT services throughout the year i.e. normal lessons, exam periods, summer holidays. Additionally, schools can access services for free that would cost money if operated locally e.g. servers, software, maintenance and support.

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Being able to access Cloud-based services from any browser offers an additional set of day-to-day benefits:

  • Allows teachers more time to provide support and feedback to individual students through saving time in set-up tasks
  • Increases the scope for peer-to-peer support in the classroom as documents can be easily shared between students
  • Improves the level of security and disaster recovery as IT processes and procedures can be more easily enforced and monitored 

Supporting Learning

There is no ‘one size fits all’ technology solution for classrooms. It is important for schools to provide a tailored experience for students, offering a good range of devices and resources. While tablets are great for games-based learning, having an option of a Chromebook is more practical for certain school tasks where students are required to type for longer periods of time. 

Support available

There are many excellent online resources on Cloud-learning created and shared by the teaching community, including webinars, blogs and Youtube videos. However if the teacher is more comfortable with face-to-face training, then there are a growing number of organisations offering courses from beginner to advanced levels. Look for providers with Cloud Technology Certified Trainers and Teachers whether these are experts on Google, Apple, Microsoft or other specialist software companies.

Also try to find out if the trainers are practising educators as the best training is interwoven with tried and tested examples of the application of technology in the classroom. C-Learning is one company who provides such a service, and schools can find out more about the Cloud learning training and support available at www.c-learning.net/training.php.

It is clear that using Cloud learning devices holds many potential benefits, including saving money, providing flexible learning and easy access to online resources. With the right support, schools who adopt a “web first” strategy can greatly enhance learning outcomes for their students.

Ian Nairn is Director of C-Learning, a provider of services to help UK schools make the most of Cloud technology.

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