What’s the Big Deal about Cloud Computing?

Following the Covid 19 pandemic most, if not all, schools in the UK were assisted to sign up for cloud based computing services provided by Google or Microsoft.  This service was often provisioned quickly to enable schools to enhance their provision of remote learning.  Other schools were more fortunate and had already signed up for these services which are provided for free.

However many schools have still to take full advantage of the functionality on offer and should be considering how cloud computing could help them to reduce costs, improve the security of their networks as well as the teaching and learning benefits which should be seen.

Which Cloud Solution is Best for Me?

At Skipton Girls’ High School we use Microsoft 365 as our platform of choice.  One reason for this was the quality and familiarity of the Office suite of apps.  It was also a pragmatic decision as most IT staff are trained and have better knowledge of Microsoft’s products as they remain the most widely used in the workplace.  We felt we were preparing students better for their futures if they used these products.  Some would argue that Google’s offering, whilst more simplistic in some ways, can be easier for under-resourced schools to administrate.  Some also argue that some of Google’s products are slicker and more responsive than Microsoft’s One Drive especially when used via a web browser.  If you have decided to purchase Chromebooks for students then Google is likely to be your best solution.

Syncing to the Cloud

Whichever system you use one of the first benefits of moving to the cloud is that you can sync your School Management System with your chosen learning platform.  This helps to keep your network secure as accounts of staff and students who leave/join the school during the academic year are automatically created and suspended helping to reduce your administrative burden and helping to ensure only those you want can access your systems and network.

Because everything is linked together it means that other cloud based software can also integrate with your management systems and link in with each other.  At Skipton we use Firefly for, amongst other things, curating digital content for students.  Recently they have been able to make their software integrate with Microsoft Teams so students don’t need to move between two different platforms.  They’ve also created a seating plan tool which allows teachers access to information about their students helping them plan their group work and questioning strategies easily.  Lots of other software can work like this within the cloud.

It’s possible to help students stay organised because their timetables can be added to their Office 365 calendars for example as can homework.  This information can even be shared with parents if you have the right tools in place.  With careful planning there is no need for students to have planners any longer meaning a considerable cost saving for schools.  If you’re struggling to do this yourself there are a number of companies that can help you achieve what you want.  Ruler and Salamander are two companies that can help.

Security and the Cloud

Traditionally teachers and students have saved their documents to servers based within the school.  Servers do have a limited life-span and are energy hungry devices.  There have been examples recently of school servers being hacked and criminals gaining access to sensitive information.  In one recent case a school had to send students home because hackers were preventing them accessing their management information system and the students could not be safeguarded!  With cloud based computing everything is stored at data centres which means you don’t have to worry about replacing servers or keeping them up to date.  You can be more certain your data is secure and backed-up.  

Saving to the Cloud

So we can save money and we can be better organised by moving to the cloud but are there any benefits for teaching and learning.  The major advantage is that when documents are stored in the cloud they can be shared rather than sent to other people.  I see a lot of colleagues that still haven’t fully realised the potential this has to radically alter what happens in the classroom.  It means students and teachers can collaborate with each other in real time on documents be they sat in the classroom or at home.  Everyone in a group can contribute to the creation of something using a huge variety of multi-media techniques.  They can communicate with each other in a safer environment.  It can lead to a higher quality of learning and in a much more productive manner.

Learning via the Cloud

The cloud has helped to break the link between being sat in the classroom and learning.  Using the cloud teachers can encourage students to continue learning with them at times and in ways that suit them.  Flipped learning is an example of this.  Videos and documents can be accessed with ease outside the classroom ensuring that time in the classroom can be used as productively as possible.

Strategic Planning via the Cloud

The same is true for staff.  If curriculum planning is stored in the cloud it allows for a more collaborative approach to curriculum design for example.  This leads to a higher quality curriculum for students and allows planning to take place using the ideas and qualities of an entire department even if they can’t always meet at the same time for a face to face session.  The opportunities to reduce workload on admin tasks is huge.

Supporting Learners via the Cloud

Finally where documents are stored on the cloud it allows companies like Microsoft the opportunity to enhance what can be done to a document.  A huge range of assistive technologies can be added to documents with the potential to massively enhance the accessibility to learning of students with SEND.  It can also assist with improvements in formative assessment such as the ability to leave audio feedback on work and continually improve drafts of documents.  These kinds of techniques have been shown by the EEF to have a massive impact on learning.

In conclusion all schools should be seriously considering moving at least some of their data solely to the cloud and have a clear strategy for achieving this.  It may require some improvements in infrastructure such as ensuring adequate internet bandwidth but the benefits should outweigh the initial costs.  Staff and students should not be saving work to servers or individual computer drives any longer.  The benefits to efficiency, learning and collaboration are massive if the cloud is effectively harnessed.

If you would like to know more about how increasing your use of cloud computing could benefit your school or more about the EdTech Demonstrator Programme in general please contact me via hoylej@sghs.org.uk. Alternatively more information and resources can be found via the EdTech Demo Website EDTECH Demonstrator Programme (ucst.uk)

Published by James Hoyle

Assistant Headteacher and EdTech Demo Lead at Skipton Girls' High School. I have a keen interest in how technology can enhance teaching and learning and sharing ideas and approaches. When I'm not working you'll find me on my bike, in the mountains or both!

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