What is 'Cloud Computing', and what can it do for Education?

I keep hearing people talk about the ‘cloud’ and ‘cloud computing’. So, what is it?


“Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet.” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing).

Does that help? No, then how about …

“The concept, quite simply, is that vast computing resources will reside somewhere out there in the ether (rather than in your computer room) and we’ll connect to them and use them as needed.” (Times Online, May 2008).

Or …

“Cloud computing basically lets you access software applications, hardware, data and computer processing power over the web. You don’t have to purchase and run software in your computer anymore. The cloud, the abstract physical description of what the Internet can do (personal computer, processor, storage), is there for you anytime, anywhere.” (Smart Schools).

Try this:

So how does this relatively recent ‘thinking’ affect what we do as educators and facilitators? According to Twine.com cloud computing is simpler, faster, and cheaper for organizations to implement–which is why it is soaring in popularity in education.

“Most … just want to use technology tools and resources; they don’t care where these resources are located or who is delivering them. Cloud computing makes it easy for them to do so. Faculty members simply go to the web to request the IT services they need for themselves or their students. From a menu, they can choose the operating system, the software applications, and the server capacity they need, and then they can schedule this request to repeat for the entire semester, or as needed.”

Cloud computing, in education, is able to be both good and bad. Why?

The ‘good’;

  • It allows you to work from multiple PCs (home, work, library, etc), find your files, and edit them through the cloud.
  • It can be used to support teaching and learning experiences.
  • Most software is free, available and ready-to-use.
  • Students can have a richer and more diverse learning experience, even outside standard school hours.
  • Schools and jurisdictions can minimize costs; e.g. outsource Institution email to Google or Microsoft.
  • It allows users to create content through the browser, instead of only searching through the browser.

The ‘bad’;

  • Not all applications run in the public cloud.
  • Sensitive student data is no longer completely controlled by the school or the teachers.
  • Internal networks are still needed for disseminating policies, printing, grouping students, web filtering and local storage.
  • Who owns the intellectual property rights over some things you posted on cloud services?
  • A deleted account does not mean deleted content.
  • Can you truly rely on the cloud to correctly and accurately filter (adult) content?

Is it the way forward? It sounds very very good, and I want to know more. But can we explain the benefits to the IT department and the bean-counters; these people only know about control when everything is locked down tight, on their own internal systems. Can they be ‘advised’ to drop this out-dated thinking in favour of the new ‘cloud’?

I strongly suggest you read as much about the subject as you can, I know I am. I found this post by Jen Millea a good place to start: “Heading into the cloud: cloud computing and education“.