Can Cloud Deliver on the Promise of an Integrated Curriculum?

New research finds school embracing cloud as mainstay for delivering IT services.

School districts are more readily embracing cloud computing. Cloud is on par to break the 50 percent mark shortly as their technology of choice for delivering IT services, according to research revealed in CDW’s Cloud 401 Report.

Our recent survey of tech leaders found school districts’ IT organizations deliver 42 percent of services totally or in part via cloud computing. And, of those services, the split is nearly 50-50 between migrations from traditional delivery and brand-new projects begun in the cloud.

Plus, 76 percent of the participants in our cloud survey expect to buy more compute cycles and storage over the next three years than they did in the last three.

Equally intriguing: The chief hurdle to cloud adoption is no longer price. Of the 150-plus K–12 respondents, all of whom manage cloud purchases and use in their districts, about half consider cloud services inexpensive to buy but complex to implement in tandem with other services.

In fact, it’s migration and integration that most concern IT leaders: Fifty-nine percent of respondents cite the difficulty inherent in these as holding their districts back from deploying more cloud services.

Taking the Leap

Think about what might be possible by pairing cloud computing with ubiquitous Wi-Fi and new tools such as Chromebooks, tablets, 3D printers and Google Apps for Education. In the K–12 environment, the opportunity to introduce and broaden the integrated curriculum promoted by the Common Core standards seems bright.

Not surprisingly, the leading services in K–12 cloud environments are email, storage and web hosting — all at or near 60 percent use among our survey respondents. But collaboration and productivity tools rank a laudable 46 percent each as well. And the least delivered service, bare-metal infrastructure, still tips the scale at 15 percent.

Certainly, broader cloud adoption has the potential to drive up integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction as well. Given the price point of gear like Chromebooks and the scalability of computing available through the cloud, schools can and are beginning to expand their STEM horizons. High schools are leading the way, but the lower grades can take note and follow in their path.

The adoption of cloud technology can be a launching point, in part because cloud can support not just STEM but a wide swath of school and district needs.

This potential makes it worth figuring out a way forward. And, despite the hurdle of integration and the need to partner closely with a cloud provider to develop detailed diagnostics and service-level agreements, implementations are speeding up. The survey found that, on average, a cloud deployment now takes nine weeks, down from 11 for an initial rollout. And half those surveyed report it now takes them less than six weeks.

The Payoff

A look at a unique STEM program shows why these efforts are worthwhile. At Wheeling High School in Illinois, students this year are designing and building fuel-efficient cars — all by themselves — in part by using software programming tools and 3D printers.

“There’s a lot that goes into vehicle design. They’re not building a go-kart. There are system components, like the wheel base, steering, suspension and safety systems,” notes Michael Geist, an engineering and manufacturing teacher at Wheeling.

Programs like Wheeling’s give students an enriched learning experience that they wouldn’t get otherwise, says Tamara Moore, associate professor of engineering education at Purdue University. (Read more: Hands-On Clubs and Tech Challenges Nurture STEM Learning.)

Hands-on projects result in deeper learning, says Moore, who does research on integrating STEM concepts in K–12 education. The expansion of tools and capabilities that cloud services would allow can help create more such opportunities for students.

Clearly, that’s the point and reflects the incredible effort that educators are putting into reshaping the classroom experience for students. Equally clear: Cloud can help make the possibilities of an integrated education a reality.

Mar 30 2015

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