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How the Public Cloud Can Enhance the Academic Experience

Austin Fuller

7 min read

Being a student at a university has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. I remember when I was in school, smartphones and technology were the banes of every professor’s lecture. Now, it’s hard to imagine a lecture without a student or a professor using a phone.

Today, we see greater and greater public cloud adoption with each passing year. Technology continues to permeate and transform the learning experience, creating a landscape of remote, onsite, and hybrid students who rely on technology to power their learning.

The advent of online learning not only brings education to more students but also gives universities access to an even larger population of potential students and a greater capacity to serve them.

Empowering Online Learning

Cloud-based learning can be deployed rapidly everywhere, helping to deliver instruction in the forms that learners prefer. With the right technology mix, students gain more ways to interact and experience courses.

  • Attending lectures in-person

  • Watching video recordings on-demand

  • Collaborating online through message boards, real-time chat, cloud-based editing tools, and video meetings

  • Online posting, reviewing, and grading of their assignments

It also allows instructors to monitor students’ progress closely via online course access, which can lead to personalized feedback.

Today’s students want to attend universities that allow them to learn how they want, whether onsite, remotely, or a hybrid of the two. If they can’t get these experiences from one university, they may be inclined to look elsewhere. Institutions must offer the type of learning experiences students desire to continue to attract new students. The cloud enables higher education institutions to meet their students’ expectations by allowing them to collaborate, study, and take tests on their own schedules. Remote and hybrid students benefit in group settings by being able to meet online at any agreed-on time, and without concerns for their physical proximity to each other. Cloud-based messaging, conferencing, and meeting applications help provide students with an almost in-person experience through features like video, quality audio, and whiteboard capture.

These benefits demonstrate the tremendous value of apps as part of the cloud experience. Not only can institutions take advantage of apps from vendors, but new applications can quickly be melded into an online learning platform, via APIs for quick integration – and, in many cases, data sharing – with other apps on the platform.

Emerging Academic Tech: Cloud-Based Learning Management Systems

One of the largest areas of evolution in how the cloud will power education has been with the newer learning management systems (LMSs).

A cloud-based LMS is a dramatic shift from on-premise LMS. Unlike locally hosted LMSs, a cloud-based LMS doesn’t require you to install specific hardware or software in order to use the technology and is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. All the information is stored in the cloud, allowing learners to log in via a web portal to access the platform from any device.

There has been a massive influx of applications for every facet of the learning process. To tame the growing jungle of required applications, these newer LMSs have become the de facto approach to make online learning easier – providing an amalgamation of compatible tools that are pre-integrated to form a single application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational courses.

Enabling Technical Learning

According to Pew Research, between 2010 and 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the number of STEM bachelor's degrees awarded grew by 62%, compared with 20% growth for all degrees in the United States.

The public cloud is helping meet this demand for STEM education by making technical resources and powerful managed services available to a broader segment of the student population while avoiding the historical distribution costs of hardware and on-prem service management. For example, the 1000 Genomes project from the National Institutes of Health is available for anyone to use on AWS Marketplace. Cloud providers offer high-power computing resources on an on-demand basis, allowing faculty to utilize them for classroom learning. In contrast, before, these would have only been available to researchers or institutions with the ability to procure them on-premise. What was once prohibitively expensive or rare, has been made accessible and common.

As demand for skilled STEM workers grows, universities can differentiate by making disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning available to more of their students and creating enticing technical programs to equip students with the skills they want and the workforce needs.

The public cloud has lowered the barrier to entry for powerful computing resources that once were found only in the racks of expensive onsite data centers. When properly managed, the public cloud can open the door for innovation and exciting new educational opportunities for students.

It is now possible for students in computer science programs to build artificial intelligence applications or for data and analytics students to use machine learning, data warehousing, or other advanced capabilities and have access to enormous open-source datasets to use in their learning. The cloud enables students to graduate from a technical discipline with more “real-world” technical experience. Where before, students were limited by what their institution could afford to host or simulate with their data center, they now have access to the world’s largest public data center and the hundreds of services and resources made available by the cloud providers. But as essential as this access is to making education better and more accessible, it isn’t without risk.

Addressing the Risks of the Public Cloud in the Classroom

As Stan Lee wrote, "With great power comes great responsibility," which is true when it comes to expanding cloud adoption into use cases that impact the greater student population.

Effectively Govern Without Impeding Learning

Technical resources must be heavily governed to ensure that they are used properly without posing financial and security risks to the institution. However, if you overly govern these resources, you hamper native access to cloud resources and risk diluting the learning experience. The best way to institute sound governance without encumbering learners is to employ automation in the proper places and ensure financial and compliance guardrails are correctly configured. You can consider creating a self-service experience using native cloud tools like AWS Service Catalog. Adding a tool like Kion can add financial enforcements, compliance requirements, permissions, access controls, and more to create a curated selection of self-service cloud resources across multiple cloud providers. This gives faculty and students fast and convenient access to resources they need to learn and know are safe to use. Being able to instruct and learn in a manner that you know is approved breeds confidence and better learning experiences.

Manage Frequent Turnover

Universities also need to prepare for high user turnover. Some students may only require access to public cloud resources for a semester or two. If neglected, high user attrition can pose security and compliance risks. Managing users can drain time and resources away from the team if the correct mechanisms and processes are not in place. Being prepared by having identities from your centralized identity provider mapped to roles defined within your cloud providers can make it easier to manage user turnover.

Because centralizing identities is a best practice, Kion supports many identity providers for authentication. When Kion is used as the “front door to the cloud” for users to federate into the native consoles, it becomes the only gateway to the cloud environment. When a user leaves, removing them from your centralized identity provider will immediately revoke their access to Kion, and therefore the cloud environment, making it simple to manage high volumes of user turnover.

Adopt the Cloud Without the Headache

Kion has helped many top universities deliver powerful learning experiences by providing a platform for complete visibility and control of their cloud. Institutions with Kion can drive cloud adoption with confidence through Kion’s granular user access; cost and budget visibility and attribution; and security and compliance features.

If you want to see a demo of Kion and how we help enable cloud adoption for research and higher education institutions, request a demo here.

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About the Author

Austin Fuller

Austin has nearly a decade of experience in enterprise software and cybersecurity and is an AWS-certified cloud practitioner.

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