As the past year has shown, cloud computing has proved a vital service for K – 12 public schools. It’s enabled online learning during a time of critical need, and the schools who have embraced cloud adoption have thrived and will continue to do so.
Cost efficiencies are a big driver of cloud adoption. For schools grappling with budget cuts, the cloud offers a cost-effective way to educate students and streamline operations. Cloud solutions are also easier to deploy and integrate than traditional IT infrastructure. This allows schools to reallocate their limited budgets toward teaching and improving student outcomes. Schools who choose to keep their operations on-premises may miss out on these benefits.
Let’s look at the ways the cloud is changing public school education today–and some of the common bumps administrators and IT teams should avoid along the way.
How is cloud computing used in schools?
Even before the lockdown, the cloud was already pulling ahead in the technology stakes. A March 2020 study showed 82 percent of education institutions host their email or productivity systems in the cloud, 52 percent leverage cloud-based learning management systems (LMSs), and 39 percent store curriculum content in the cloud.
An important benefit of the cloud for educators and their students is that it enables a rich, personalized, collaborative, and immersive learning experience using technology many kids are already accustomed to using. The cloud also increases equity in the classroom. Students who previously lacked access to computer labs in areas such as STEM now can connect to cloud-based labs and bring complex topics to life on any device, wherever they are.
Educators also benefit. Cloud-based lesson planning and classroom management resources can streamline curriculum development, provide insights into student understanding, and help teachers better respond to student needs. Cloud-based student information systems also streamline workflows for administrative staff, while collaborative tools like video conferencing make it easier to seamlessly connect without the need for expensive hardware.
Finally, the cloud eliminates the costly and time-consuming task of managing and maintaining on-site systems. This reduces operational costs and gives IT staff the flexibility to scale computing resources up and down as needed, such as during grading periods or remote learning.
What are the challenges of accelerated cloud adoption in schools?
There are several important, yet often overlooked, issues public school systems should consider before making the move to the cloud:
- The network: In the rush to embrace the benefits of cloud computing, it can be easy to overlook a key area of a school system’s IT infrastructure: the network.
For instance, early in the pandemic, two of the key challenges schools encountered as they shifted to remote, cloud-based learning were connectivity and speed. If the connection is slow or lost, teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn.
The key to ensuring consistent service and performance for end users is visibility. Planning and managing any cloud migration requires monitoring network performance every step of the way. Before, during, and after a school system migrates to a cloud environment, network administrators must be able to see and understand network behavior in terms of bandwidth utilization and latency and stay up-to-date on every network operation front.
- Automation: IT leaders should also look to automate network tasks wherever possible. Automation can streamline operations, and it reduces the risk for human error, the leading cause of network downtime.
One area ripe for automation is network configuration management. In a network extending to the cloud and including hundreds of devices spread across various locations, it’s not feasible to manually carry out jobs like managing configurations, replicating the same change over multiple devices, ensuring device configurations are compliant to standards, keeping track of configuration changes, and so on. By automating these routine-but-cumbersome tasks, network administrators can offload the challenge of ensuring devices are configured correctly.
Depending on the risk appetite of the school, automated network configuration practices like software-defined networking (SDN) can also be used to scale networks more efficiently, even across hybrid IT deployments where a school’s IT infrastructure straddles the cloud and on-premises. Instead of a single network engineer controlling a couple hundred switches, they could potentially manage thousands from a single pane of glass.
- Talent: Finally, supporting cloud adoption requires the right talent. School administrators should invest in training IT teams to be “cloud-ready” and identify and elevate the right skill sets from within. Because cloud service models are more dynamic than traditional infrastructures, a new agile mindset must also be nurtured.
In unpredictable times, the cloud is a win for public schools
As the cloud continues to win the popularity contest in public schools, it’s proving itself a win for both distance-based and in-school learning. With doubts remaining that kids will return to the classroom in full for some time, schools investing in the technologies needed to deliver educational continuity and a quality experience for students and staff will be the ones best positioned to ensure they and their community of learners thrive—today and tomorrow.
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