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Some School Systems Flirt with Cloud-based Education

January 07, 2014

While the cloud has revolutionized business, the public education sector has been much slower to catch up. Many schools, even in wealthy countries, are still relying on paper and textbooks for teaching and studying materials as the supply of computers and other devices such as tablets is still uneven. 2014, however, may be the year that this all starts to change.

At the 2013 TED conference last February, Sugata Mitra presented his vision for the cloud in public education. A professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, Mitra took his vision of “schools in the cloud,” a little further than most people are comfortable with. He described classes of 24 in real schools, but without teachers. Instead, these students would be managed in place by volunteers who ask questions, offer the encouragement and provide discipline and order. Everything else would happen remotely using tablet computers. Even the lights, heating and locks would be manipulated via the cloud, according to a 2013 article that appeared in Wired. This could be a particular boost for schools in poorer areas where high-quality teachers are not available.

While Mitra’s vision may be far off on a whole-school basis, using the cloud for lower education is an idea ready to take off in some places. In late November, a school in the UK, George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, England, opened a one-room learning lab designed to be a space where students can engage in their own educational adventures, self-directing themselves to topics that interest them.  Called a “Self-Organized Learning Environment,” or SOLE, the students who use the lab are guided by an online mediator from the so-called “Granny Cloud,” or group of retired teachers who are brought into the lab virtually via Skype (News - Alert). The lab, which was designed by students, features computers and touch screen devices that students use to do their work.

The idea isn’t limited to the UK.  In Japan, the communications ministry and the education ministry have announced that they will begin testing a new system in which students will similarly be able to access teaching materials via the cloud using tablet computers and devices, both at home and at school, beginning in late fiscal 2014.

According to the Japan News, the cloud computing-based learning system will target certain primary, middle and high schools as well as a dozen schools for children requiring special care and support. In fiscal 2016, the two ministries plan to start implementing the system nationwide while also hoping to extend the system overseas.

The idea shouldn’t surprise us. Given how school quality varies from region to region, depending on the wealth of the community (at least in the U.S.) or the population density, it’s not surprising that schools would see cloud-based learning as an economical but effective equalizer of resources. One large hurdle is likely to be that not all schools can afford to hand tablet devices to students (though there is currently an experiment underway in Los Angeles that saw many public school students being provided with an iPad). But as schools look to boost educational quality while at the same time keeping costs down, they may begin to turn to the cloud more often. 




Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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