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Moving to the cloud is easy for HE

Liz Sproat, head of education, EMEA at Google, discusses the opportunities moving to the cloud can bring to universities

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | January 06, 2014 | Technology

Many of us have experienced the rapid pace of technological change as the latest mobile device is released and instantly makes our one-month-old device look redundant. 

But there are always major opportunities to be grasped as Moore's law continues to prove its point and foresight. One of the biggest beneficiaries can be universities who are at the forefront of research and development. As with most sectors following the recession, universities have had to contend with budget cuts, whilst trying to provide the best possible IT systems suitable for tech-savvy students with multiple devices, administration staff, lecturers and research faculty from different departments, each with specific needs.

With the introduction of cloud computing back in 2006, universities were able to sign up to services like Google Apps for Education for free, giving them access to secure web-based email, calendar and documents. Today, following years of innovation, there are now more than 25 million Google Apps for Education users across the world all benefiting from the cloud. Google Apps for Education provides a set of communication and collaboration tools that includes docs, sheets, forms, presentations, hangouts and gmail. As a result of moving to the service, universities can provide tools capable of supporting students working on group projects, simultaneously and in real time, using documents, spreadsheets and presentations wherever they are based. This makes it easier for students to share ideas without worrying about version control.

Likewise professors and teachers can comment directly within student assignments, stream­lining the faculty feedback process. Lecturers can even run entire seminars on Google Hangouts, meaning that students can catch their classes online, even if they're not on campus. Student committees can host their social calendars on easily accessible Google Sites and post pictures of their events on Google+. For example, Ealing, Hammersmith and West London college use social features like Google+, Google Sites and Hangouts to encourage collaboration between staff and students through its student eAmbassador programme. The foundation learning team has 12 designated students who develop resources to share with their peers and train staff on how to use Google Apps as a platform for collaborative learning.

Universities also benefit from having a system that just works, with no need for server maintenance and significant cost advantages. The University of York, for example, has saved more than £400,000, increased the institutional appetite for change and provided a cutting-edge innovation platform. As the service is cloud-based it gets better over time. As technological improvements are made to the software users benefit instantaneously, without the need to implement upgrades.

However, as with all technology implemented within education, each university has to conduct its own due diligence when moving to the cloud, which can be both time consuming and costly. In order to help more universities take advantage of the collaborative and communication benefits the cloud offers, and remove the headache of necessary processes, Google recently launched the Cloud Service for Education agreement with Janet, an organisation which is part of the Jisc group. Jisc provides network infrastructure and related services for schools, colleges and universities across the UK. Together we have agreed a framework agreement that allows colleges and universities in the UK to sign up to Google Apps for Education using Janet’s approved contract which meets all UK legal requirements.
This agreement gives peace of mind in relation to security, resilience, legal and data compliance, cost and functionality.

We recently signed a similar agreement in the Netherlands and since then, half the country’s universities and colleges have moved to the service. Jisc estimates that each UK higher and further education organisation could save approximately £20,000 in time and cost from conducting their own due diligence- a figure that simply speaks for itself.

Over the years we've seen many UK universities benefit from the cloud. Early cloud adopters like the University of Sheffield, who came to us in 2006 looking for a new, more mobile-friendly email system, have experienced great success. Even less tech-literate departments within the University have been able to transform the way they present departmental resources online on features like Google Sites. We hope that it is even easier for more universities to take advantage of our free cloud tools and transform the way students learn, faculty teach and staff communicate.

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