The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on education. In the Spring of 2020, schools across the United States abruptly closed, forcing millions of students to learn from home. Many schools simply did not have the infrastructure in place to support this type of learning environment.
As schools began to plan for Fall, it became clear that many would remain closed for health and safety reasons. Remote learning and hybrid learning became part of the ongoing conversation between schools and their communities. All grade-levels of education were impacted, from kindergarten through college.
By the time the 2020-2021 school year began, 74 percent of the 100 largest school districts in the U.S. had opted for remote-only learning. With COVID cases continuing to rise in many areas, school districts had to look beyond simply “make it work.” Instead, they are looking to provide the type of educational experience students would have in the classroom.
Distance Learning vs. Remote Learning
Distance learning is not new but is different than remote learning. In the past, it referred to physical limitations that prevented students from being in a classroom.
Distance learning included providing learning opportunities for students in rural areas or other countries. It might also include continuing education courses or specialized classes.
The biggest difference between distance learning and remote learning is that distance learning is designed for independent work. Remote learning more closely mimics a classroom experience. Because of school closures due to COVID, students did not choose remote learning: it was chosen for them.
The scale of remote learning became a huge challenge for schools. Any distance education courses offered were likely small in number. Remote learning, on the other hand, had far-reaching impacts.
How Education Has Responded to COVID-19
Education has always been an adaptable industry. As businesses sent their employees home, teachers were placed in a unique situation. They needed to engage with children while physically separated.
IT administrators within schools had to quickly review their options. How could schools deliver remote learning to students? What tools or platforms should be used?
The result was that schools turned to cloud computing. With staff and students dispersed, cloud resources became the way that learning could continue. This has touched nearly every aspect of education.
Teaching and Educational Tools
One of the main focuses of remote learning has been on student engagement. How can teachers interact with students, in the same way they would in a classroom, through a computer screen?
School officials have had concerns around student isolation, learning outcomes, and quality of materials. Teachers have needed to consider the interaction with students. Some course materials became irrelevant or impractical in a remote learning environment.
Fortunately, many cloud platforms and tools are available that have enhanced the ability to teach remotely. Using a variety of tools keeps students more engaged than staring at a screen for an entire school day.
Live and Video Lessons
Part of student engagement brings live and recorded video lessons to the forefront. Teachers have used Zoom and other tools to meet with students, either in large groups or breakout sessions.
Educational apps, curriculum management, and testing have become an integral part of remote learning. Grading tools allow teachers to monitor students’ progress.
Chat and Social Tools
Tools that allow students to interact have become popular. These tools facilitate conversations and brainstorming. These tools can also allow students to interact outside of the classroom.
Infrastructure and Support
Students and teachers were not the only ones affected by learning at home. IT administrators within school districts faced similar logistical issues.
Providing support to schools while remaining physically distanced is a challenge. It further emphasized the need for cloud-based infrastructure.
Traditional, on-campus IT infrastructure will continue to have limitations. If buildings are closed, IT administrators need a way to access and manage their schools remotely.
Scalability becomes critical as teachers need access to resources. A high volume of concurrent users causes strain on a server and bandwidth. It becomes frustrating for teachers and students alike.
Cloud computing has allowed IT departments to be responsive. Whether using public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, resources are rapidly available as needed.
Without access to their classrooms, teachers need access to materials in a way that they didn’t before. They need to be able to collaborate with colleagues and upload homework to students. Students may need storage space for multimedia files, presentations, and other assignments.
School administrators need access to records and other critical documents. Schools can store enrollment, financial, registration, and other records in the cloud. This means that administrators will have access, even when buildings are closed.
Many school documents are still received as hard copies from families. By digitizing and storing these documents in the cloud, schools are facilitating work from anywhere. Cloud storage also provides an important backup for these important documents.
Benefits of Cloud Computing for Remote Learning
All areas of education can benefit from implementing cloud solutions. Overall, it provides a more innovative and flexible learning experience.
Technology has long been a driving force in education. The arrival of COVID-19 in the United States has pushed schools to embrace cloud computing and cloud applications even more. While doing so, schools can also recognize the following advantages.
School districts can see significant cost savings in cloud solutions. Traditional deployments are increasingly complex. There is a cost to set up and maintain infrastructure.
Not only are there hardware costs, but IT departments often spend a lot of time on the environment itself. They need to configure, secure, and deploy on-premise solutions. Schools regain the time of their IT staff with cloud solutions.
Existing hardware may not be able to keep up with demand. Administrators can provision cloud resources as needed. They can even spin-up resources for temporary use.
Administrators don’t need to worry about over- or under-provisioning. Instead, they can use only the resources required.
Reallocation of IT Resources
On-premise solutions force IT staff to focus on continual maintenance. With cloud delivery, technology groups can instead work on other solutions.
More time can be spent on improving instructional experience or providing support to faculty and students. IT can help to optimize the learning management systems. They can research and implement tools such as online conferencing, mobile, or other tools.
School districts can meet the needs of more students by delivering resources through cloud computing. Beyond COVID-19, students can have access to remote learning resources when there are other barriers. Illness, snow days, and other physical class limitations disappear with online learning.
Schools can also increase revenue through more distance learning opportunities. Higher education or schools that charge tuition can offer improved distance learning experiences, bolstered by cloud computing.
Group work is an essential part of learning. Cloud computing has made it easier for students and teachers to collaborate on projects. Since physical presence is not required, collaboration can take place anytime, anywhere.
Remote Learning in a Post-COVID World
While COVID will not be around forever, many aspects of remote learning will stay. Schools that continue to increase cloud resources moving forward need to think of the long-term implications.
Of course, moving to cloud computing requires planning. COVID-19 forced some of these changes to happen with rapid speed.
At the same time, school districts need to consider and plan for some of the ongoing challenges. Cloud computing can meet these challenges. However, it will take some consideration from districts and IT administrators.
For any resources that are not currently cloud-based, how will the migration occur? What school resources will the migration require? How long will it take to migrate the resources?
How can schools secure data within the cloud? How will user access be controlled, either student access or faculty access? How can administrators mitigate outside threats?
How can schools protect student privacy with cloud resources? What are the best practices for storing sensitive data within the cloud? How can schools control sharing?
How easy is it to work with a cloud provider? What happens if a cloud vendor needs to change? Does the vendor have an established reputation for cloud delivery?
What are the legal or regulatory requirements? What policies or procedures do schools need internally when moving to cloud computing?
Backups and Disaster Recovery
How will backups occur? In the event of a failure, how easily can IT administrators restore the data?
The Future of Cloud Computing in Education
Remote learning would not have been possible without cloud computing. And while education continues to evolve in its response to COVID-19, some of the technology used is here to stay.
Even when students return to the classroom, school districts will continue to benefit from cloud computing and cloud solutions. In many ways, COVID-19 has sped up the technological trajectory of education.