Monday, 4 February 2013

How can cloud computing improve educational performance?

Cloud Computing in Education
Technology has continuously impacted on the way we teach young people. In the 1950s learning theorists concluded that repeated drills and the repetition of content-supported learning and more specifically recall. This led to the introduction of listening stations in the classroom where students were able to use headphones to listen to audio tapes and cassettes. This progressed to the integration of video tapes a year later and the trend has not slowed since.

Today, technology is advancing quicker than ever and, as it does, schools and learning institutions are starting to gain pace with new technologies − a very welcome change, if you ask us.

Cloud computing is a term that up to now has been mainly associated with its use to improve corporate efficiency. This is a natural phenomenon given that very few publishers and developers are from the education sector and so its promise and use has been relatively unexplored.

To offer some context, cloud computing can be defined as the use of a network of external or remote servers to store, manage and process data, rather than using a local server.

The purpose of education and the principals of learning are to inspire, educate and share knowledge. Yet in practice there are barriers that can affect teaching and learning; from oversubscribed classrooms and lack of staffing resources to constraints on annual budgets and the overzealous involvement of local authorities. The list goes on but as technology becomes more significant in our daily lives, many educationalists are beginning to actively promote the use of cloud computing in the classroom.

In this article we’ll consider the ways that cloud computing can be used to curb barriers to learning and improve performance in the classroom.

Cost reduction and economies of scale

Cloud computing is an expansive technology that can solve problems of high class numbers, localised classroom designs and the cost of attending in person (i.e. at university). Cloud computing enables students to log on to a virtual classroom, from anywhere offering access to the internet. As such, teaching doesn’t have to be delivered face-to-face, it doesn’t even have to be in real time. Lessons can be delivered remotely in the form of webinars, webcasts or audibly via podcasts.

Educational institutes that embrace cloud computing have the opportunity to benefit from economies of scale. As well as reducing the cost for students and problems of oversubscribed classrooms, schools and colleges can also reduce costs with the use of online distribution systems. A considerable proportion of a learning institute’s budget goes into communication: whether between the school and student, the teacher and parents or internally between departments, the costs of printing and distributing materials are a significant financial burden. If paper-based systems were replaced by distributed work management systems, stakeholders would be able to access information from a central, online system, i.e. email or VLE platform, that would act as a noticeboard and asset-sharing system.

In recent years, schools have started to introduce smart devices into the classroom. iOS and Android learning are offering teachers new opportunities to innovate lesson plans and dramatically improve student engagement. The question is, could schools be doing more?

Schools throughout the UK are introducing computer-based learning, yet the adoption of cloud computing differs and goes beyond the integration of smart devices. Cloud computing and e-learning mean that students have access to virtual learning environments to access, collaborate and share data at their own convenience.

The world’s largest publishers are catching on, with many forming joint partnerships with software and hardware providers, such as Pearson International, whose recent investment in Nook Media LLC has led to further speculation that publishers are preparing to move away from printed textbooks, preferring digital alternatives.

This could provide the largest cost saving for schools and learning centres as cloud computing and the widespread deployment of smart devices mean that students and teachers can access textbooks and learning materials direct from their devices. This would enable students and teachers to share resources and spend less on purchasing individual copies of key texts and books.

Cloud computing and the use of intuitive e-learning resources, like LearnersCloud’s GCSE revision videos and apps, are already supporting cost-reduction strategies and enhanced learning programmes in schools and colleges throughout the UK. And as schools strive to constantly review and improve their standards and educational performance, so the importance of cloud computing will become increasingly clear.