Cloud Computing Affecting the Education Industry

By Jose Bernier Ed.D., AVP & CIO, Stetson University

Jose Bernier Ed.D., AVP & CIO, Stetson University

Cloud Computing Benefits for Education Arena

Today, as consumers, we expect to have access to our systems and information at anytime from anywhere, while, as Information Technology administrators, it is one of our goals to provide our users with that omnipresent access. The advances in mobile technology are both an opportunity and a challenge. Cloud computing is one of the advances in technology that complements mobile technology to provide constant access. While enhancing the user’s experience, cloud computing gives IT groups the opportunity to research new initiatives without the upfront cost associated with hardware, ultimately translating in a better user experience. Cloud computing has shifted the burden of performing system upgrades, backups, and maintenance to the providers allowing IT groups to reallocate resources to focus on other tasks and assume their “hero role” around campus.

"Cloud computing is one of the advances in technology that complements mobile technology to provide constant access"

In Education, we see a shift to hosted environment for Learning Management Systems and email systems. As server rooms are getting smaller and the calls to reboot a system diminish, we can focus on training our faculty and students to get full advantage of the “cool” features embedded in LMS systems. The educational online environment is no longer a simple upload of a syllabus and a PowerPoint presentation. Students and faculty interact in a true virtual environment where uptime and reliability are critical to provide them with a positive experience. Cloud computing has provided the ideal virtual environment to facilitate that learning experience. Being platform agnostic, cloud computing also allows students and faculty to continue to use those devices that they feel more comfortable with, without the need to introduce a new device to purchase and learn to use.

There will always be a need for some local infrastructure, but it is undeniable that cloud computing has made the technical world more flexible.

The Innovation Forefront

• What does growth mean for an institution? Are we looking to increase enrollment to the point that we are mass producing degrees, or are we looking to grow the reputation of the institution by increasing the quality of its pedagogy and student learning outcomes? One may hope for the latter, without dismissing the importance of enrollment. The role of technology in this area is to make sure that you can support a realistic growth, while still having the resources to control quality. Early alert systems, degree completion, tutoring, faculty development tools, etc., are some of the systems that an institution can employ to meet this challenge.

• How about innovation? I would hope that we involve faculty and students and that we take every opportunity to ask students for their input. What are they expecting from the institution nowadays? How do they learn better? Research shows that there are different learning styles - audial, visual, kinesthetic, etc. We have a great opportunity to search for innovative ways to maximize learning and faculty development.

• Finally, as the market evolves, our concept of a traditional student is changing. We see an increase in enrollment of working professionals, mid-career students looking to change fields, international students, etc. One thing all these new traditional students have in common is that they are looking for more with less and more for less. To accommodate the new market, the Information Technology department is invited into the strategic conversation to find way to provide that on-demand access in the most cost effective way.

Transforming the IT

Long gone are the days when the IT department was locked in an equipment filled office with buzzing servers humming in the background. Nowadays, the Information Technology department plays a key role in most of the major initiatives of any institution. From perspective students, all the way to graduates, IT touches every aspect of a student’s educational journey. At the same time, the role of the CIO has evolved from the go-to person to complain about a slow system or a chronic printing problem to an ally and strategic partner for both the academic and administrative side of an institution. Today’s CIO sits at the table of most strategic meetings. His/Her input is sought out to steer the conversation in a return on investment proposition. He/She plays a key role in translating an academic request into a business proposition with a full economic impact attached to it.