There was a time when, to use files (word processing files, spreadsheets, etc.) on different computers, you needed to save your files on a thumb drive or CD-ROM disk. The drive or disk then travelled around with you so that you could load your information onto other computers while holding your breath until the document or PowerPoint slide was actually retrieved! Not any longer. The safety, stability, and ease-of-use of cloud computing in education is resulting in widespread adoption in educational institutions of all sizes and types.
Why Store in the Cloud?
Are there really any true advantages in education for storing information off-site on a server that could be located anywhere? The answer is yes! A recent conversation about cloud computing with several colleagues in the education field, including a high school chemistry teacher, revealed significant advantages:
- No more carrying around devices, such as thumb drives or CDs. You don’t need to worry about losing the device, breaking the CD, or not having your information load properly.
- Easy access! Lesson plans, labs, grades, notes, PowerPoint slides – just about anything digital that you use in teaching is easily uploaded and accessed anytime.
- Stability: cloud computing is now to the point of being a very stable technology that you can rely on.
- Security: Your data, content, information, images – anything you store in the cloud usually requires authentication (ID and password, for example) – so it is not easily accessible by anyone. In addition, should something happen to the technology at school, your content will still be available to you and your students if it is stored elsewhere.
- Shareability: Working on an instructional assignment with other teachers? You can share some or all of your files that you have stored in the cloud. No more obtaining an extra thumb drive or burning another CD or DVD. You just need to send a link to the file(s) destination.
- Trackability: Make changes to a lesson and want to change it back? No problem. Cloud computing will save multiple revisions and versions of a document so that you can chronologically trace back the evolution of an item.
- Collaboration: You can set-up various student groups to work on projects and assignments in the cloud.
- Good-bye copier! That’s right! With cloud computing, the amount of photocopying is reduced significantly – even more so if each student has their own smart device (computer, laptop, tablet, etc.). Quizzes, tests, assignments all can be taken, scored, shared with student and parents, and stored.
- Good-bye file cabinets! With cloud computing redundancy, there is no longer the need to both save files digitally as well as in paper format. Cloud computing systems are regularly backed-up, so the chances of losing content are quite small. And, no more file cabinets means more classroom space for you and your students!
In the early 1980s, F.W. Lancaster predicted a paperless society. We are not quite there yet and many not be for many years to come. There are some instances where paper is still the preferred format for education. Even though we have e-books, people still prefer to hold an actual paper book in their hand. There are situations, however, that going digital makes sense. Classroom and school administrative management is a perfect example. If your school has information technology infrastructure (wired and/or wireless), it is easy to implement cloud computing. And, the advantages of cloud computing far outweigh any disadvantages. From the administrative perspective:
- Staff and teacher time spent printing, filing, and distributing can be better used on more educationally-directed activities that impact student learning.
- Cost savings in terms of buying, leasing, and maintaining photocopiers and printers, ink cartridges, and paper.
- Return-on-investment by not needing to invest in purchasing, housing, and maintaining servers, software, and related IT items, such as thumb drives, and CD-ROMs.
- Greater efficiencies as teachers and staff can easily access documentation anytime, anywhere without needing to rely on someone being at their desk to sign-out a paper file.
- Streamlined workflow: Workflow can be tracked using various analytical tools to see how often files are accessed, busiest times of the day and days of the week, etc.
- Short learning curve: It does not take long – a few hours (if that) – to learn how to manage digital documents in the cloud.
The Big Leap
Going from paper to digital requires a big leap of faith. We want to hold onto that paper item because we can feel, see, and touch it – something not available with a digital object. However, think of it this way. Let’s say you store your documents in the cloud and back it up in paper format. Along comes a major hurricane and wipes out the paper, yet the digital items are safe and sound and easily accessible because they are stored in a secure environment. No need to worry about having to try and replicate all those paper documents – a task that would literally be impossible to accomplish.
I share these insights with you not to promulgate a 100% digital environment. Like thousands of others, I still enjoy reading hard and soft cover books. During another part of my career I was able to let go of that venerable library card catalogue – but not until the technology proved to be stable and reliable. We are at the time, now, where cloud computing is stable and reliable – providing us with opportunities to implement new ways of collaboration and learning – while letting go of our educational paper archives.