Tuesday 13 December 2011

I do it in the cloud!

For a while now I've been exploring the value of the so-called 'cloud' technology paradigm to the education community. For clarity, I'm referring to services hosted off-premises and delivered to premises via wide area network connectivity. I'm interested in this technology paradigm because it offers the possibility of increased access to technology at reduced cost. More for less. But how?

Hosting applications and data away from school premises means fewer or no technical staff employed by the school. Every pound/dollar spent on employing technical staff to manage, deploy and/or support your technology is a pound/dollar less spent on the technology or staff directly supporting learning. A 2006 research report by Becta in the UK found that for both primary and secondary schools, around one third of the technology budget was spent on formal technical support. Pushing services out to the cloud reduces or eliminates the requirement for in-house technical support because technology management, deployment and support take place off-premises. For companies who deliver these services, aggregating demand means a lower cost-base, higher resilience and faster innovation. Cloud services also increase access. For example, web applications (apps) are available on any web-enabled device, including mobile devices, and fulfil the promise of anytime, anywhere, device-independent learning.

The pivotal question is: what proportion or parts of the user experience can be delivered with cloud services while maintaining or improving learning outcomes?

In order to evaluate the user experience, one must start with a baseline. Rather than use anecdotal evidence, I used audit data from three UK schools, two secondary and one primary. These schools are part of a large managed service and application usage data is recorded automatically by an audit tool. The usage was tracked over between 64 (primary) and 138 (secondary) school days in early 2011. It is worth noting that the sample schools had a high application diversity with over 3,500 application installed across all schools subscribed to the managed service. The technology paradigm is traditional client-server and MS Windows-based.

I don't intend to reproduce all the detail from my analysis here, but I'd like to focus on some of the more interesting trends I identified. I excluded all browser events and non-user triggered events from the analysis. Firstly, I looked at what proportion of the events were 'Office' or equivalent, i.e. word processor, spreadsheet, database or presentation software.