Jul 07 2021

Cloud Computing in Education and the Impact on K–12 Classrooms

Schools are gearing up for an in-person 2021-2022 school year. Here’s how the cloud can help.

With more than 300 million COVID-19 vaccines distributed, life across the U.S. is slowly shifting toward the next, new normal. For many K–12 schools, this means a return to in-person classes in the fall that are less disrupted by pandemic pressures. But even as in-person learning ramps up, remote education won’t vanish. Recent survey data found that 45 percent of parents would still opt for partial virtual learning given the chance.

Regardless of the reason, schools must find ways to mediate this digital-versus-physical tug-of-war without overwhelming teachers, frustrating IT staff and increasing operational complexity. Cloud computing offers a way to bridge the gap. Here’s what IT decision-makers need to know about making the shift.

What Is Cloud Computing in Education?

Before schools can create effective cloud frameworks, they need to know what they’re getting into. What is the cloud, exactly, and how can it help schools?

Put simply, cloud computing offloads some or all of a school’s IT environment to an offsite server cluster that is managed and maintained by a cloud provider. Cloud deployments are governed by what are known as service-level agreements. SLAs spell out what level of reliability schools can expect, what services are included, what they cost and what recompense is offered if cloud services go down.

According to Rob Clyde, executive chair of White Cloud Security and ISACA board director, cloud computing adoption in K–12 schools is on the rise as IT teams see the advantage of outsourcing specific functions or workloads. “Rather than running and owning their own servers, schools use can cloud computing as a utility,” says Clyde. “All resources are available on demand.”

He notes that there are two broad models of cloud adoption, though one is more often used by schools. “The most common is Software as a Service — rather than deploying an app on your own servers, you buy a service that the provider has hosted in the cloud. It’s also possible to deploy your own legacy apps in the cloud, but this is less common in K–12. Why roll your own when on-demand apps are available?”

LEARN MORE: Manage your multicloud environment more effectively with these solutions.

The Advantages of Cloud Technology for Education IT Administrators

While 57 percent of IT staff believe their school should prioritize updated software and hardware, 55 percent say existing budgets aren’t enough to cover these costs. In addition, many school IT teams are understaffed and under-resourced — especially when it comes to the deployment and integration of online learning tools. Cloud solutions can help solve this problem by providing schools reliable and repeatable costs for service. But beyond better budgeting, how does adoption help IT admins?

According to Clyde, the cloud lets IT hand off specific tasks to a trusted third party. “You’re no longer managing servers,” he says, “so you can take that off your list. You don’t have to worry about buying, maintaining or ensuring you have enough server space, and you aren’t responsible for security for all of those servers.”

The cloud can also help with staffing concerns. “You’re standing on the shoulders of experts,” says Clyde, “so you don’t have to hire your own.”

KEEP READING: Here are three ways to support understaffed IT departments.

What Are the Benefits to Schools as a Whole?

Cloud computing also extends beyond IT infrastructure to offer key benefits to K–12 districts. It provides flexibility, accessibility and simplicity for all users, from students to administrators.

Importantly, for education, cloud computing allows schools to access resources on-demand if learning suddenly shifts from in-class to at-home, providing much-needed flexibility to students and educators. The disruptions of the last year have shown the necessity of flexible technology.

The cloud “eliminates the need to be physically at school,” Clyde says. “You can have a single IT admin for many schools — where you’re located is no longer a barrier.” The accessibility component of cloud computing benefits both rural schools, where campuses are spread out across large distances, and urban schools. When it takes just a single IT admin to control the cloud, other IT staff members can focus their attention elsewhere.

rob clyde
You can have a single IT admin for many schools — where you’re located is no longer a barrier.”

Rob Clyde Executive Chair, White Cloud Security

Cloud solutions offer a simpler way to streamline application and service distribution. While any cloud approach can help K–12 schools, Clyde recommends well-known public cloud providers for their ease of entry.

What Do K–12 IT Decision-Makers Need to Know?

Before choosing a cloud solution, K–12 IT leaders must consider three crucial components.

  • Connectivity: If last mile connections can’t keep up, cloud solutions won’t offer the same ROI. As a result, Clyde recommends choosing a major cloud player that can help address connective concerns.
  • Scalability: With cloud options expanding, it’s now possible for schools to select SaaS-specific providers that offer unique or specialized services. “Make sure they can handle peak loads,” Clyde says. “Make sure they can scale with demand.” Evaluate your district’s needs now and where they will be in the future.
  • Security: “You also need to consider that there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” says Clyde. He suggests IT decision-makers have proper guidance to ensure security settings are enabled and correctly designed. This will allow schools to handle attacks or loads on their networks.

What Are Some of the Top Tools and Providers for K–12 schools?

While use cases differ across districts and education models, Clyde offers several suggestions for learning management systems and providers. He’s seen, for example, significant uptake of the Blackboard LMS, noting that it provides robust cloud connectivity. Other popular options include Google Classroom, Schoology and Moodle. When it comes to cloud providers, he points to major industry players — such as Google CloudMicrosoft Azure and Amazon Web Services — for their reliability, simplicity and scalability.

For Clyde, cloud adoption in K­–12 schools comes down to a simple concept: “You want to be able to fix things with just money.” Instead of requiring time and effort on the part of in-school IT staff, the right cloud provider should make it possible to select the service and applications you need at a price you can afford, effectively shifting the IT management model from operational unpredictability to on-demand utility.

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