Throughout the last few decades, educational institutions have seen a variety of significant changes. Chalkboards are being replaced by whiteboards and smart boards, notebooks and lined paper is being switched out for classroom computers and tablets. And with this new technology comes a new way of keeping it all connected - the cloud.
Educational materials in the cloud
Another advancement in the lives of students is the availability of textbooks in the cloud. Now, instead of lugging around heavy backpacks and bags full of textbooks the size of dictionaries, students bring a single classroom computer or other mobile device to access their textbooks from the cloud.
Earlier this year, one of the most widespread digital textbook programs was implemented, including 50 publishers shifting to make almost 30,000 accessible through the cloud. Educause and Internet2 are working to make a plethora of e-textbooks available to college and university students across the nation.
The program will also make course materials and resources available online, including homework, study outlines, course grades and other information.
During the implementation and early adoption of the pilot program, Courseload CEO Mickey Levitan said the organizations involved would like to see the benefits experienced by institutions.
"Also, we want to know how cloud-based services interoperate with campus systems and the unique device needs of students," said Internet2 senior vice president Shelton Waggener.
In addition to making textbooks and grades available, some university students are also using unified communication and collaboration platforms in the cloud. Notre Dame CIO and vice president Ron Kraemer said that students in the institution have been utilizing a classroom management software platform that allows them to share files and collaborate on projects all from the cloud. Students can have access to documents, visuals, presentation slides and a variety of other materials through the platform. In addition, they can make comments or changes to the content and share it with others in the network.
Bill Wrobleski, University of Michigan director of infrastructure services for Information and Technology Services, told the source that students also access calendars, emails and other tools from Google through the cloud. Wrobleski said the university created its five-year plan, NextGen Michigan, to rollout new technologies in the institution which would help foster research, teaching and learning.
"Three main objectives of NextGen Michigan are collaboration, mobility and globalization," Wrobleski said. "Adopting cloud services like Box and Google help meet those objectives."
Data security in the cloud
Making data like textbooks, course materials, grades, email and other information available through the cloud definitely has its benefits. Students no longer need to tote heavy bookbags around campus and can instead access everything they need to succeed through a single classroom computer. Additionally, these systems are scalable and flexible to meet the ever growing demands of educational institutions.
However, with these benefits also come risks. Kraemer said that his two main concerns are managing the data being stored in the cloud and keeping that information secure. However, by gaining a clear understanding of where data is stored and continually addressing threats, Kraemer said the platform and information is maintained.
Educational institutions, especially those making more sensitive applications and information like student grades and email available in the cloud need to ensure that their platform is adequately protected against security threats. A school could be propelled into complete chaos should its email system, a main form of communication in universities today, crash or become inaccessible for an extended period of time. Additionally, sensitive data like student grades needs to be heavily secured to ensure unauthorized access does not occur and only select individuals like the student and teacher can view this information. Therefore, decision makers need to examine the security offerings of their service provider to ensure their data will be properly protected.