To Cut Costs, Colleges Evaluate Cloud Deployment
To mitigate the financial hit from the pandemic, institutions are reviewing cloud solutions, particularly Software as a Service, to eliminate duplications. For example, one option is to migrate out of a paid storage solution and into one that’s free or available under an existing contract.
At the same time, says Flynn, leaders will weigh how many changes they want to impose on staff and faculty who are already coping with a radical digital transformation. If users are dedicated to a particular solution, leaders might choose to retain it.
That’s especially true for cloud-based tools related to teaching, says Doyle.
“I think what you’re going to see is, if you need it to make that experience better, to retain the students, to not have them be disenfranchised, then we’ll keep that,” he says — with the caveat that institutions may make a shorter-term commitment to any duplicative solution.
Fully Remote Instruction Raises New Questions and Concerns
In an American Council on Education survey conducted in April, 60 percent of college presidents “somewhat agreed” that faculty had been ready for remote instruction, with only 14 percent saying they “strongly agreed.”
Teaching effectively online is less about the technology than about a shift in pedagogy, says Clemmons. Accordingly, as colleges increase reliance on cloud-based learning, they may need to scale up instructional design support.
UMBC has offered faculty both general and discipline-specific training, says Doyle, with good results. “We’re seeing a tremendous uptick in faculty coming back and saying, ‘We recognize there are things we need to do differently. What can we learn?’” he says.
On the back end, colleges are making sure that cloud providers will be able to meet demand if usage surges — for example, if a large institution starts the semester on campus and then has to pivot online.
“What happens if everybody uses 20 times the capacity in a week? How do you handle that?” says Doyle. “That wasn’t a question that got asked. Now it is.”
Cloud Computing for Academic Research Gets a Boost
Momentum toward the cloud is also gaining speed in research. Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS) each committed $20 million worth of credits for researchers studying COVID-19, and Microsoft has pledged cloud computing resources to testing and vaccine development efforts.
“I’ve got, right now, three researchers doing COVID work on Google that weren’t there three months ago,” Flynn says.
Providers are also working more closely with researchers to help them optimize cloud-based tools, says Doyle. “There seems to be a higher level of interaction from the cloud providers about wanting to understand how research gets done in their cloud.”