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Does education need its own cloud?

April 29th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

The education technology community is forever forecasting future trends – and little wonder in a fast changing technology world. And almost every list poses cloud computing as a major trend for the future provision of education services and Technology Enhanced Learning. It is not difficult to see why. Technology provision is increasingly complex and is probably not seen as a core activity by institutions. Outsourced cloud solutions may be much cheaper and can free up staff to work on teaching and learning development. many UK universities have formed partnerships with Google to provide email and other services.

Yet the events of this week with a still unexplained outage by Amazon causing many sites to be unavailable for a sustained period and a not inconsiderable data loss, coupled with the hacking of user names, passwords and bank details from Sony may cause some rethinking.

Of course it could just be seen as a technical issue. Amazon need better back up, Sony need better security. But I think we need to view these events from a socio technical viewpoint. Do we wish that educational data and services are trusted to multi national coorporations? What should the relationship be between institutions and external service providers? If so, what data? Do these organisations understand what data is critical – for institutions and for learners? What rights should learners have over their own data and how can this be provided?

In the UK Jisc is exploring the potential for joint educational cloud service provision. This seems to me the right way to go. There seems no denying the potential power of cloud based services. This could be especially important for smaller schools and colleges, many of whom are struggling to even maintain Moodle. And there is no guarantee against outages or security problems if these services are controlled by educational bodies. But if the community is in control of its own services at least there is a chance that the socio technical issues related to service provision and data security have some chance of being understood.

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