K-12 Education and the Cloud

K-12 Education and the Cloud

K-12 Education and the Cloud

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K-12 Education and the Cloud

HCS will be doing occasional posts throughout the fall that explore cloud challenges and opportunities in particular industries. Today we look at K-12 education. A future post will cover higher education.

Of all the fields we’re discussing in this series, nowhere does the cloud offer greater opportunity than in education. Whether it’s primary education, higher education, or continuing education, cloud has a unique potential to make education better and more accessible to everyone. And yet, it has been a relatively late adopter of cloud technology.

Whatever the reason for slower adoption thus far, it seems about to change. This article looks at the unique challenges and opportunities in K-12 education today.

K-12 Education Challenges

As you might expect, one of the main concerns when it comes to adoption of public cloud services and infrastructure for K-12 is protecting the privacy of vulnerable minor students. As in other industries, there are government regulations that must be followed.

In the United States, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student education records. However, the education equivalent of “shadow IT” risks circumventing these protections. Teachers may sign their classes up for cloud-based software directly without necessarily considering how student data is—or isn’t—protected.

In many school districts, budget constraints are also a significant barrier, slowing the transition from more traditional IT to the cloud.

Cloud Use in Education

Perhaps because of the perceived privacy risk, much of the cloud adoption in K-12 education has taken the form of private cloud, which is already quite high. A 2016 survey of K-12 IT professionals found that a full 67% of IT solutions were being delivered either completely or partially by cloud solutions—primarily private cloud.

The focus up to now has been on delivering core IT functions including email, storage, web hosting, collaboration, DR, and traditional business applications like word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. Improving student performance and instructional quality are the big priorities for coming years with 52% of K-12 IT teams expecting to adopt more public cloud services as a way to advance such goals.

Many schools are turning to software-as-a-service (SaaS) to meet the software needs of teachers and staff and for direct educational purposes. EdTech: Focus on K-12 finds that SaaS expands the options that school districts can offer while reducing management burden. This can be particularly important for smaller school districts. Advantages of the SaaS model include less administration and the ability for teachers and students to utilize any hardware, work from any location, share files, and collaborate.

Because they are inexpensive and easily accessible by everyone, schools often adopt Gmail and Google Apps to address needs for email and other applications. Google offers G Suite for Education (formerly called Google Apps for Education), the core services of which are Gmail, Calendar, Chrome Sync, Classroom, Contacts, Drive, Docs, Forms, Groups, Sheets, Sites, Slides, Talk/Hangouts and Vault. In a similar vein, Microsoft offers Office 365 for Education, addressing many of the same needs and essentially for free. One can imagine these offerings from both companies are a way to “capture” the customers of the future, but it would be nice to believe that their intentions are—at least in part—more noble than that.

More specialized applications such as Adobe Creative Cloud are also catching on in schools. As with the Google and Microsoft office suites, many students may want or need to know how to use these applications now and later in life.

There is also a lot of curriculum-specific education software available, much of which uses a SaaS model. EdSurge maintains a detailed list that covers a broad range of curriculum products including science, social studies, language, math, and more.

Improvements in Educational Data and Technology

In addition to software that directly facilitates teaching and learning, K-12 schools use a variety of software to manage and assess student data to meet regulatory mandates and to guide student learning. For example, Denver Public Schools is deploying Illuminate DnA for district-wide assessment. The software gives teachers the flexibility to do assessments after each lesson and also enables end-of-course assessments, interim assessments, and so on.

K-12 Education and the CloudBut SaaS solutions of any kind are not a slam dunk for every school. Many districts lack the network bandwidth to run online applications effectively. Yuma Elementary School District One in Arizona has invested steadily in educational technology for the last eight years. Because many of its students are low income, the district can’t assume that students will have access to computers or even the internet at home. As a result, significant investments have been made in devices and other infrastructure improvements in schools, including the addition of 20GB of internet bandwidth to allow online software to be used effectively by students and staff.

Andrew Hsieh
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