Clouding the issue

Forget the jargon: cloud access is information access, argues Lenovo Worldwide Education Executive, Sam Morris

Software-as-a-service; cross-platform functionality; hybrid environments: when did everything become so complicated? Or more pertinently, why? I’ve written before about the connected learning experience, and now it’s time to discuss what arguably makes it all possible: cloud. But I’ll tread carefully, because to some, the mere mention of it brings to mind an altogether different outcome: chaos.

We don’t have the space to debunk all the myths here. So, let’s focus on perhaps the biggest: the preconceived challenges of providing a true cloud experience for students and staff.

For a long while, cloud has been talked-up as the future of computing; with all manner of buzzwords attached to the claims. And few could deny that the cloud era has arrived – on-campus, in business and throughout daily life. Most of us use cloud-based services without hang-ups or labels that present them as problematic. You only have to look at the success of Spotify or Netflix to see that.

And within HE, cloud has indeed become a viable platform from which to leverage the explosion of tools, devices, apps and solutions that now proliferate in education – from K12 schools up. But, as the name implies, the right strategies for cloud adoption are rather vague. To some extent, they have to be, because every organisation is different. But misconceptions abound, and many cloud solutions can be too fragmented or (dare I say it) simplistic to deliver the value they’re billed to add.

Of course, realising cloud’s potential to enable the connected learning experience depends on where you sit within the HE institution. In all probability, the most sceptical will be faculty staff.

Twenty years ago, cloud didn’t exist as a concept in the public consciousness – much less in university corridors. Content was pre-bundled into tomes, paper copies or written work that replicated all the information required for discourse. Today, that information is digital information, and the onus is largely on faculty to curate, manage, authenticate and maintain it. They certainly don’t lack options to help with that task – from school-sponsored Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to consumer-tools like DropBox and Google Docs.

But with choice comes paralysis, prompting many professors and lecturers to ask the same thing: ‘How can I make the most of everything that’s out there, in what little time I have?’ Good question. The answer lies in providing proper guidance and support. Without it, the path of least resistance can look very tempting.

Almost by default, cloud is perceived as an ‘IT issue’. And there’s some truth in that. But it’s now necessary to tackle it as an ‘academic issue’.

From my own observations, IT must find a way to elevate the cloud conversation, using models, proof points and language that academic leadership will approve and understand. That means focusing on strategies for holistic transformation, instead of striking out at problems with disjointed tools. It demands close collaboration with commercial professionals, who will likely already be on board with cloud, to help articulate the benefits in simple, business terms. And most crucially of all: it results in alignment that transcends the assumed complexities.

Make no mistake: the journey to cloud will always be a complex proposition. But that’s a very different view from the one from that turns it into a complicated problem. It’s even further removed from the obvious end goal: enhancing education through information access – independent of location, time or device.

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