How Has the Education Sector Adapted to Life in the Cloud?

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Nobody could blame educational establishments for being caught off guard as the COVID-19 pandemic forced teachers and students to put down their pens and pick up their laptops. Even the most digitally-prepared businesses in the world had to suffer the bad hand dealt by the pandemic, completely upending their day-to-day operations in a bid to keep employees safe. The challenge for the education sector was equally as harsh, but far more was at stake. Under increased media scrutiny and with high expectations from parents, teachers had to move their lessons online while students adapted to learning at home, both parties coping with abnormal amounts of screen-time.

However, the future of a generation hasn’t been the only thing at risk during this pandemic. Educational institutions themselves have had to cope with a level of operational risk that they would ordinarily never have experienced. This has left academic organizations like schools, colleges and universities particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks and prone to severe inefficiencies. So how have educational institutions coped with the switch to cloud technology and what role will it play once the pandemic subsides?

In most business boardrooms prior to the pandemic, digital transformation will have been a five-to-10-year strategy with gradual, phased rollouts. If businesses with established roadmaps have struggled to adapt to remote working, one can only imagine how hard it must have been for academic institutions. Transformation does not come without risk, and schools, colleges and universities will have a lot to consider in 2021 that they might not have had to in 2019.

Moving lessons online means they’ll have to consider things like access privileges, data protection and safeguarding considerations for the confidentially of students. That’s not to mention the regular updating and patching of the underlying software that facilitates online learning, from virtual classrooms to word processing suites. What puts academic communities at a distinct disadvantage is that not many of them have heavily staffed IT departments to handle such things, and teachers working from home often do so without the dedicated IT support that the employee of a digital business might get.

Virtual lessons and on-demand learning can be a positive experience, but there is a digital mountain to climb in ensuring that those lessons can be delivered safely and securely. Most academic institutions won’t have had time to prepare for this, so they’ll be depending on third-party providers when it comes to delivering live lessons and lectures. This naturally throws up questions about content ownership and the control of data - who has access to it? Can it be copied and duplicated? What’s more, educators will need to make provisions for monitoring and overseeing the progress of individual students’ progress. Qualitative reports that were easy to generate during contact time in the classroom will now be almost impossible to produce, so different metrics may be required.

It’s possible that cloud technology could be used beyond the pandemic, not as a replacement for classroom study, but as a valuable supplement. As more student work is completed electronically over time, assignments could be uploaded to secured central depositories that only the teacher can access. Advancements in AI could also lead to a pre-screening of essays and coursework, providing the teacher and student with more accurate predicted grades. Virtual tours and trips could even enable students from far and wide to partake in the same course, irrespective of geography.

Cloud technology will offer many future benefits to schools, colleges and universities, but only if it’s implemented correctly. Attention needs to be paid to the scalability of solutions at the very beginning, not to mention integration with existing technologies and the ability to centrally manage – all of which could exponentially add value to the education sector. However, this cannot be a half-hearted pursuit. Organizations across all sectors tend to struggle when undertaking cloud transformation projects without first addressing fundamental information security issues, as any deficiencies tend to be inherited from the old environment. If the academic sector can learn from the business sector’s mistakes over the years, it will soon be playing on an equal digital footing.

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