Cloud Formation – James Mutton

In the second of this five-part series, we ask James Mutton, Putney High School, how cloud computing is changing education

How do you foresee cloud computing changing the education landscape, in terms of teaching approaches?

With the increase in digital materials, the way we teach is changing, slowly but surely. You still need consistent access to the internet to be able to access these resources, and there has to be some commonality between devices so that each student can have a rich experience. You also have to be innovative and brave enough to take a calculated risk: someone had to be the first to think that iPads would be a good tool in the classroom.

At Putney, we decided early on that technology was a force for good. While some were trying to combat the influence of social media and the demon ‘screen time’ on pupils (banning phones and switching off Wi-Fi are two solutions that have been tried), we adopted a more 21st-century approach, incorporating technology into many aspects of their learning and giving pupils the confidence to use the myriad of digital channels safely and responsibly.

Is there also the possibility that cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), can make campuses greener, more efficient spaces?

The internet presents a fantastic opportunity to increase our green credentials. For example, we are developing a bus route to help students get to school in a more environmentally friendly way. The internet helps us to plan the route and keep track of the buses, and helps parents to book journeys. We need to do everything we can to encourage students not to come to school in cars.

There are many opportunities for us to develop this more: air-quality monitors that would turn on filters if necessary, or the sharing of documents online instead of wasting ink and paper. I am keen to get the girls involved in using their digital skills to improve efficiency around the school – perhaps indicators around the site to tell you an optimum time to go to lunch.

Is cloud computing opening up education for a whole raft of users who – either because they are not suited to the classroom environment, or can’t afford the materials – were previously excluded from it?

I think that cloud computing does open up education up to many people, although the internet and a compatible device are prerequisites – and given that prices are low and accessibility is generally high, things look good. There are many opportunities for it to be used across the globe to afford every single child a basic standard of education.

We are transitioning from a ‘teacher-centred’ to a ‘learner-centred’ system: how can cloud computing help with this?

One of the beauties of cloud computing is the disruption of the information flow from teacher to student, putting a much greater emphasis on collaboration between classes, between students and within the existing structure. Being able to share information quickly and easily is at the heart of this. It also means that our girls at Putney can be ‘in’ a lesson with people on the other side of the world, or even in space! Remember when Tim Peake and Chris Hadfield did live streams from the International Space Station? This is exactly the sort of learning experience we love at Putney, something that really excites and inspires young people.

Should educational institutions be clear on which type of cloud infrastructure – Public, Private or Hybrid – works best for them?

Schools will always be driven by budget, and setting up a private cloud infrastructure could be very expensive. As long as the security is in place to keep students and data safe, then I would always encourage individual establishments to do whatever is best for them.

What risks and challenges (e.g. data protection, cybersecurity) should institutions be aware of?

Obviously we have all been talking about GDPR recently and this is certainly making people much more aware of data protection and privacy. We need to ensure that students understand how to navigate their online world safely, and we must also acknowledge that the rate of change is so fast that, once we think we have fixed the problem, something else will pop up. It’s crucial not to shy away from all of this, because we would be doing our students a disservice if we did not empower them to operate successfully in a digital world.