Cloud computing continues to gain momentum in K–12 districts across the country, spurred by expanded E-Rate funding for broadband connectivity and a host of operational efficiencies.
For example, the K–12 Cloud Possibilities survey from CDW•G found that schools now deliver 67 percent of their IT solutions fully or partially via the cloud, a sharp rise from 42 percent just two years ago.
But the survey uncovered another equally important trend: While the cloud has been a go-to model for delivering infrastructure services — such as email, storage and web-hosting systems — today’s top two drivers of adoption are improving student performance and the quality of instructional time.
In short, educators see the cloud as a means of enriching classroom experiences. And the technology is already living up to expectations in two ways: by supporting digital curricula and open educational resources (OERs).
Curricula in the Cloud
Digital curricula are nearly ubiquitous today. Ninety percent of districts surveyed by the Center for Digital Education said they were either planning to or already had implemented personalized learning programs utilizing digital content. What’s more, research by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) found a similar percentage of educators expect their instructional materials to be at least 50 percent digital within the next three years.
“The cloud is crucial for digital curricula,” says Bryan Alexander, a consultant who focuses on future trends in technology and education. “The cloud is where teachers can upload materials used in flipped classrooms and where students can engage in collaborative projects.”
It can also break the boundaries of physical classrooms to enable students in the U.S. to collaborate with peers in foreign countries, he adds.
Cloud Delivers the Future of Learning
OER adoption is also gaining momentum. CoSN reports a whopping 99 percent of educators will incorporate digital OERs over the next three years, with 45 percent expecting their digital content to be at least 50 percent OER within that time frame.
The cloud delivers some of the highest profile OERs available today, such as content from Khan Academy.
“With OER content, teachers are involved in building content rather than just purchasing materials off the shelf,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger says. “The materials can also be updated more easily than when they come from most commercial providers.”
As an added benefit, OERs can help districts save money by avoiding fees for commercial content. “But that doesn’t mean OER content is free,” Krueger warns. “It requires time and effort to create and curate content, which are resources that may now be spent on other educational activities.”
Nevertheless, a number of signs point toward increased adoption of OERs. The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law at the end of last year, allows districts to use grants for OER development. Through its #GoOpen campaign, the U.S. Department of Education also encourages states and educators to use openly licensed educational materials to offer the most up-to-date and relevant content. And Amazon recently launched Inspire, an OER-oriented online store.
Connectivity Could Hamper Adoption
Although the cloud supports digital curricula and OER content, challenges remain for its wider adoption within school districts. The biggest is inadequate internet bandwidth, a long-time hurdle.
Despite E-Rate modernizations, 68 percent of schools report insufficient bandwidth for today and the coming 18 months, CoSN’s Krueger says. But even as schools make progress on those hurdles, many face another, more strategic question: how to fully capitalize on cloud’s potential for classrooms.
“My sense is that a lot of districts are still developing their full cloud strategy,” Krueger says.