From education to employment

Custom-fit cloud

Bespoke solutions are not the only options when it comes to cloud computing in educational institutions. The hybrid cloud is accessible, secure and future-proof; could it be the best of both worlds? James Penny, solutions director at European Electronique, examines this in more detail, looking at the unique needs of FE, and explains why the hybrid cloud could just be the biggest game changer of recent times.

We are now moving towards a new way of learning. Colleges and educational institutions are now understanding and embracing digital technology as a means of retaining students, and providing them with a better chance of moving into the workplace; it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the potential of this digital transformation. We need to understand the implications of the digital world on all aspects of learning, in particular within the Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) sectors. Part of this process is understanding how the cloud works and the importance of this service for your educational organisation.

Cloud technology can provide an opportunity to integrate a range of communications and management systems and the ability to communicate with students in your college or educational institution on devices of their choice. All colleges need to have effective communication with all students during their journey, beginning at recruitment stage and possibly afterwards. Students, particularly those in FE and university are given a lot more free reign and are very much independent learners. However they need to be able to communicate effectively with teaching staff and be in a position to easily access teaching material.
Technology is constantly developing and young people today are motivated by this and want to use the newest devices to support their studies. Whatever new technologies are coming onto the market, they will certainly need the cloud.

What is the hybrid cloud?

As most people are aware, cloud computing simply means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of on your computer’s hard drive. The hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardised or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g. cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds).

Cloud benefits

Increased flexibility

In FE, there is a large focus on independent learning. Students are expected to take information they learn and run with it, leading them to new realms of information while forming their own opinions. A hybrid cloud system can allow students to access content away from the college setting and take control of their learning. Independence will be even more encouraged and the incorporation of technology into the classroom can become more apparent. This doesn’t, however, eradicate the need for face-to-face communication, but instead signals the collaboration of physical and virtual learning organisations. Students can share information and support each other’s learning experiences under the direction of teaching staff.

Agility and innovation

In an age where for many students, mobile devices and app downloads are part of everyday life, cloud computing provides a form of technology that complements their lifestyle. Gone are the days of mundane prescription lessons. Teaching has come to life and with the support of new technological advances, it can be made even more readily available. Cloud computing programs can provide the gamut of services, offering virtual lessons for using class management and administrative tools. Technology is constantly evolving, more rapidly than ever before, and FE institutions need to reflect this in their approach to computing. With thousands of students being supported by the cloud, hybrid provides the innovation and agility required to do so, while ensuring a future-proof and secure system that is accessible for all.

Significant savings on staff time and equipment

The time saved on printing and filing is another great advantage when using cloud technology. Teachers and lecturers have easy access to data and tutorials at the click of a button; no more carrying around devices (such as USB memory sticks) and worrying that you might lose it. As information is stored on the cloud, there is no need to keep hard copies, or to have lots of paper work accumulating on your desk or in large filing cabinets taking up space. Another advantage of using the cloud is the security aspect; most accounts require a password to ensure that only the relevant people get access to the information.
When it comes to the cost implication, cloud allows you to spread the cost over a period of time, rather than paying a large sum of money upfront to cater for the upkeep of a local server. It enables educational organisations to be more flexible with their budgets. Some services are available for free on the web, allowing private information to be hosted in a private data centre. As cloud technology is based on a pay-as-you-go model, you are only paying for what you use, and whatever is required to keep the service up-to-date is covered by the costs you pay.

Like businesses, HE institutions want to realise the full potential of their data, not only to benefit their students and to attract new ones, but also to make more informed strategic decisions about the future of their organisation. Students today come to campus with their own devices and expect a good service from the college’s IT department. It’s important to cater for these students’ needs. If you are thinking of investing in cloud technology, find a reputable ICT solutions company that can manage these services for you. As most institutions are now embracing the idea of cloud technology, it’s really a matter of choosing the right service provider to suit your organisation’s specific needs.

James Penny is solutions director at European Electronique, a technology company with 30 years of experience in ICT

The European Electronique team will be available at stand C240 at Bett 2015 to discuss the many educational ICT solutions they have for schools, academies, colleges and universities.

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