Cloud Computing: A Collaborative Learning Tool for Students

Have you ever seen the message “Put your file into OneDrive or Google Drive to get them from any device”? That’s how I learned what a cloud is. I am mentioning it because, at present, people are talking about Cloud Computing. So, I was wondering if, this is the same that a cloud or if, this is something else. Since I have no clue, I decided to dig deep and to figure it out what Cloud Computing is and how I can use it.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Cloud Computing is defined as A model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction

Let’s try to keep it simple. Cloud Computing gives users an effective way to access, work on, share, and store information/ and or applications using the Internet rather than saving or installing them on a computer. In essence, data is stored on web servers owned by a third party. Through their servers, companies offer users storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and more. In fact, companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have invested a lot of money creating their own clouds. This investment can be noticed in the recent ranking provided by Forbes where the Top 5 Cloud-Computing vendors were highlighted. Currently, the leading companies are:

  1. Microsoft
  2. Amazon (AWS)
  3. IBM
  4. Salesforce
  5. SAP

Third-party tools also exist to provide extended data management features on top of those offered by the cloud provider, for example, NetApp’s AWS storage solution.

Maybe, you are wondering why I am mentioning these companies. Well, this is because Enterprise Cloud Computing is another term in the radar when talking about Cloud Computing. In general terms, Enterprise Cloud Computing is a computing environment that provides software (SaaS), infrastructure (IaaS), and platform (PaaS) services to an organization [6]. Some of the main benefits of acquiring these services are:

  •        Faster delivery of information technology services and resources
  •        Lower infrastructure and operational cost
  •        Safer computer environment

[6], [7]

On a regular basis, people use Cloud Computing without even noticing it. As users, people do not need any knowledge about the technology behind this internet-based technology [2]. They can just access the information from anywhere and at any time, and share their resources with a lot of users.

At first sight, we may think that Cloud Computing is only used by computer science engineers or related fields. Well, we are definitely wrong!! Cloud Computing can be applied to different areas such as those shown in the figure below. Because Education is my area of interest, I will focus on the use of Cloud Computing for teaching.

Taken from [3]

Nowadays, several universities in the United States are using Cloud Computing This is the case of Eastern Michigan University, University of California, University of Westminster, and Florida Atlantic University [1]. According to the report published by Technavio about Global Cloud Computing market in the education sector, its use will grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 26% from 2017 to 2021. Indeed, several Cloud Computing courses are already offered via online.

Cloud Computing in Teaching

In the past, students working in groups struggled a lot trying to make progress in their assignments and/or projects since only one of them could work on the file. Now, the team-work is more efficient. All the students can work on the same file using their own laptop, tablet, cellphone, or any university equipment at the same time [6]. They do not even have to be at the same place. Isn’t amazing? The results of a survey taken by 40 undergrad students of the Technology College at Eastern Michigan University show the different cloud applications used by the students. Have a look at the results!

Taken from [4]

Although the use of clouds is increasing among undergraduate and graduate students, Cloud Computing is not often used by professors. They have been teaching their classes in the same way for years, so they are still reluctant to change the way how they have taught their classes. In order to fully incorporate Cloud Computing in a classroom, new faculty generations should take a step forward because the learning approach and needs of students are definitely very different in the current technology generation.

So, what benefits can Cloud Computing provide to students and teachers?

  •       New innovative methods for teaching and learning.
  •        Fast access to the class material.
  •        Flexible communication between professors and students (they do need to be in the classroom).
  •        Promotion of E-learning (use of technology in learning and the promotion of online courses)
  •        Stimulation of a collaborative learning environment among students when working together.
  •        Enrichment of the group based work allowing students to share references material, papers, journals,  software, etc.
  •        Better interaction between students and instructors during the class. Professors can ask questions during their lectures and allow students to participate by using an online interactive software (This is really useful when having large classes). Having the students answers on real-time help instructors to focus on student weaknesses instead of repeating and what student already are good at.  
  • Allowance of real-time feedback for the students when they are working on assignments (Professors can access to students’ work using the cloud-based storage service).

[1, 2, 3]

So, what are you waiting for? Start using Cloud Computing in your classes!!

“Using cloud-based learning, teachers are improvising on teaching methodologies by integrating modern technologies such as blended learning and collaborative learning, thus creating an effective learning environment for students” – Jhansi Mary (A lead analyst for education technology research)


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