Cloud computing represents a model of information processing where the software and hardware resources used in this processing are presented to the customer as an online service. The cloud computing shows an aggressive share growth on the market of IT services and, as a result, becomes integral to almost all computerized activities of a human. Thus, this research paper analyzes the definition of this technology from a prism of education and evaluates the pros and cons of its usage in the educational process. In addition, the core improvement and future risks of cloud computing are indicated in the final part of the paper.
What is Cloud Computing?
The phrase “cloud computing” is currently wide enough not to confuse people about its meaning. In the simplest words, cloud computing means to store and access data via the Internet instead of your computer's hard disk. The term “cloud” is just a metaphoric name for the Internet. However, generally, "cloud computing" is a complex infrastructure with many technical details hidden in the "cloud". Cloud computing model gives convenient access to the network through a common pool of customizable computing resources (eg, networks, servers, storage, applications, services).”
Cloud model promotes the availability and is characterized by five major elements: on-demand self-service, broad network access, combined resource, location independence, fast flexibility, and measured services. The cloud also contains three service models: software, platform, and infrastructure as a service; and four deployment models: private clouds, group clouds, public clouds, hybrid clouds.
A private cloud can be managed by the organization or a third party and may present on premise or off premise. The cloud infrastructure of the community cloud is divided into several organizations and provides its services to a unique partnership with a common mission, policy, etc. Public cloud is ruled and owned by the provider of the cloud computing services and is made for the public or a large industry group. The hybrid cloud is a mix of two or more different clouds.
While cloud-computing data is permanently stored on the virtual servers in the cloud, it is also temporarily cached on the client side to computers, laptops, netbooks, mobile devices, etc.
Nowadays, cloud computing is an integral part of our lives, especially while using the net. Everything from an ordinary e-mail box to the cloud data storage, like the Dropbox, can be defined as cloud computing. Every progressive person uses this technology even without noticing it. Moreover, cloud computing has a positive impact on business. Due to this technology, developers or start-up businesses do not have to invest huge capital in hardware to provide their customers with a new type of Internet services and hire human capital to operate it. There is no need to waste necessary resources on the projects that do not find the final consumer but instead focus the capital flows on the new products and services.
Relation to Education
In today's world, educational institutions are heavily dependent on information technology without which they cannot function effectively. Purchase and maintenance of various computers and software constantly require significant financial investments and qualified professionals. Cloud computing can cause a departure from the accommodation and the provision of informational services in educational institutions. More often, these services are provided to students by teachers via the Internet. Educational institutions receive them for free or a small fee; in addition, these services are more affordable and reliable than their local equivalent.
This technology influenced greatly the architecture, services, and logistics of the inception of the new educational courses. The usage of modern cloud computing systems can be realized on different devices, while the core factor is an Internet connection. The cloud technology can be used for various purposes, even to make a context educational program that can be effectively used for assignment completion or as the initial basis for developing new educational systems.
The e-mail was one of the first cloud-based services that have been adopted by the European educational institutions. Preserving the email service is a simple task that definitely does not play a key role in the functioning of the educational institution. For example, Google Inc. and Microsoft provide e-mail service for the staff and students of educational institutions for free.
In addition to e-mail services, these corporations allow educational establishments to use cloud functions of the standard office suite to work with electronic documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Cloud services for educational institutions “Google Apps for Education” and “Microsoft Office 365 for education” allow the use of integrated systems for instant messaging, calendars of joint planning, and shared address books. Each user receives a cloud disk with enough space to store any information that has been obtained as a result of working with the cloud.
It may seem strange that these services are available to educational institutions free of charge, while for commercial organizations software prices have been traditionally high. This pricing policy is explained as follows. In today's market of cloud computing, there is a high competition among software vendors, so they try to provide their services to educational institutions free of charge. The assumption goes to future graduates who after education will get a job thus being able to convince prospective employers to purchase a software product as they already know it. In addition, it will increase the loyalty of users to the products of a certain brand as well as its recognition and popularity.
The other example of cloud computing usage by education institutions is learning management systems or LMS. External providers support such services as Blackboard and Moodle; due to that, it makes sense for the educational institutions to integrate LMS in the case cannot afford to buy and support expensive equipment and software themselves.
Support for Education
It is worth saying that cloud computing, through providing their services, makes great support of educational processes while pushing towards further improvements.
The benefits of integrating cloud computing into education have been established by a variety of studies. Positive outcomes may include higher graduation rates, improved matriculation rates for higher education, and improved national academic rankings. On a broader scale, over time, the national benefits of bringing ICT into the classroom have included improvements in GDP, worker productivity and national competitiveness, as well as new jobs and the cultivation of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The improvements in education can be seen in five key spheres: evaluation, professional development, educational communication technology, policy, and assessments. Generally, cloud computing improves the speed of information sharing due to real-time accesses to the necessary sources. Moreover, as sources basis is getting bigger, plagiarism can be discovered more precisely. The better collaboration of the students during the study projects is provided by better accessibility and shareability of the data.
The analyzed research papers helped me to determine such core advantages of cloud computing in education:
- Reserve copies (the data are saved in the cloud storage even though the computer suddenly breaks)
- Storage (the cloud permits to save all the data of all the types)
- Accessibility (the data from storage have real-time access even from a smartphone)
- Collaboration (the cloud permits several persons to work on the same file simultaneously and see all the remarks)
- A fair attitude to the time and resources (the teacher can economize his time as there is no more need to make the copies of the assignments, and the students get the access to the task immediately online).
In addition, cloud solutions can be used to support cooperative learning and socially oriented theories of learning using computer technologies to support collaborative methods of instruction. Cloud computing offers many benefits to e-learning solutions by providing the infrastructure, platform, and educational services directly through cloud providers and using virtualization, centralized data storage, and facilities for data access monitoring.
Nevertheless, despite a substantial amount of the advantages of cloud computing, the drawbacks of this modern technology also have a place in the educational processes. The permanent high-speed connection to the Internet is strictly required, but not all educational institutions can maintain this condition, especially in the emerging or third world countries. Moreover, there are some limits concerning the software of cloud computing that does not allow customers to make some important settings of the functional part of the service. Lastly, to my mind, the most significant disadvantage of cloud technology is that users are dependent on the company`s price and marketing policy.
Improvement of the Educational Process
Currently, there are many representative examples of how cloud computing is used to improve educational processes. For example, many colleges and universities in the CIS countries had integrated to Virginia Virtual Computing Lab. This allowed educational establishments both to reduce the expenses for IT services (by cutting down the necessities of licensing and software updating) and have their own data centers. By using cloud services, North Carolina State University also decreased the expenses on software licensing and reduced the number of IT employees from 15 to three. Another successful example is Kuali Ready, which is a cloud-source project with an objective to provide a business planning service made by educational institutions to guide for further cloud development.
There are significant policy improvements in cloud computing in the context of educational integration at all levels. To make the use of cloud computing effective, educational establishments have to adapt the rules and terms of its usage to make this technology more accessible and deregulated. As cloud computing is gaining more popularity, the information stored there must be secured at the highest level. The security of the data can be an issue and cloud providers have to be updated about the security methods they use.
This means that information security software is developing simultaneously to cloud computing growth. In “Cloud Computing in Higher Education: A Guide to Evaluation and Adoption” (2009), it is indicated that by contracting with a cloud service provider (perhaps another, larger university), small college can adopt state-of-the-art applications and services that enable it to skip a whole generation of academic computing, thereby bypassing many of the costly and debilitating challenges discussed previously.
The increased usage of cloud services in education seems to be inevitable and will become part of the educational process’ progress. Further integration with cloud computing will provide education with unique access to the enormous storage of human knowledge and break all the obstacles for studying.
The effectiveness of the usage of cloud computing in education directly depends on the interest and desire of the teacher to modernize the studying process with some stimulation from the head management of the institution. Cloud computing opens for the institution's new opportunities for providing dynamic and actual applications for virtual education based on up-to-date IT technologies.
The conservative behavior of the institutions’ management indicates that the educational establishments seem to transfer their “core” data to the cloud much later than commercial companies do. Moreover, specific requirements concerning the teaching methodology, rules of evaluation, access to funds, government policies, and legal aspects make cloud technologies less suitable for educational data storage. In addition, low-quality cloud services could be spread among the institutions if they do not have enough funds to pay for high-end products.
To adopt the cloud computing system, the universities should first evaluate the specific challenges they could face. They have to think and plan how to overcome complicated issues concerning privacy, jurisdictional circumstances, risks and performance, complicity, network capacity, and personnel’s experience.