April 04, 2011

Why the cloud's important for education: saving $199,995 on one test

Most school management teams glaze over when you talk about cloud computing. But if I told you that one science test, administered across New South Wales, was delivered for $199,995 less thanks to being hosted in the cloud for one day, rather than on dedicated servers in the education department, would you be interested?

That's exactly what happened, and it sets on a grand scale why the relatively small student-by-student savings we see from digital material being held on a server farm in Texas, rather than a server in the school grounds or Local District offices, are so important in these straightened times.

Such services might be Google Apps being introduced to schools, and the use of web-based "software as a service" (SaaS) programmes such as Every1Speaks to capture and share learning. If schools can look after these pennies, then tens of thousands of dollars and pounds are freed up for teaching and learning.

Using the cloud to cuts ties with out-of-date learning environments

And as more schools feel tied to wonky learning environments that don't really serve their purposes, feeling tied more to the email services provided therein rather than the learning resources themselves, there is a super opportunity to cut ties and bring in the best of breed in email, shared platforms, communication tools and video conferencing on an 'as-needed' basis. This cuts not only the actual cost of services to near nil, but also cuts the educational cost of students using quickly outdated online tools that a school paid for upfront.

Here is the blurb from the Microsoft site, as they explain how their Azure service cut the bill:

The New South Wales Department of Education (DET) is the largest department of education in the southern hemisphere. They wanted to improve the way they conducted Year 8 science tests to replicate what students did in the laboratory and believed interactive online science testing could test a wider range of skills than just pure scientific knowledge. However, DET estimated for them to host an online test for 65,000 students simultaneously would require a A$200,000 investment in server infrastructure. With the help of their partner, Janison Solutions, DET launched its Essential School Science Assessment (ESSA) online exam. In 2010, they trialled an online science exam hosted by Microsoft Azure that went out to 65,000 students in 650 schools simultaneously. Paying A$40 per hour for 300 Microsoft Azure Servers, DET estimated the cost of hosting the online exam for one day was just A$500.

Not only that, but the maintenance and robustness of those servers is handled by the experts, rather than an education department, and if more scale is needed, it gets added on without anyone ever needing to know.

It works on a State level. It needs to start working more on a school by school level.

Pic from Sugree


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I've been a fan of the cloud for some considerable time but are LAs ready to engage? I very much doubt it. LAs (or possibly just mine)are determinedly risk averse and even though the arithmetic might add up in these budget strangling times, I can't see it happening any day soon. Sadly.
In my authority anything that isn't GLOW is eyed with suspicion and treated like an ICT bomb. Some departments/teams etc may feel directly threatened by it in terms of potential job losses - who knows. It's frustrating beyond words but there you have it.
The only hope I have is that the monetary benefits may eventually register with sufficient high heid yins to create a tipping point. In the meantime, I'll be on the seesaw of debate adding weight to the cloud(y) side of learning,teaching and assessment.

We were really impressed by presentations on this at http://www.elb2011.org/ was solution for particular challenge.

My question is whether it will scale down to individual school size, and whether it suggests a role to be played by local authorities or indeed formal or informal collaborations between schools or learning communities. Quick blog post here

Karen is right though, in that LA's need to open their eyes and see the potential (rather than just continuing to roll out more and more 'safety and security' measures that cripple the ability of learners to actually learn). In these times of attack, LA's need to have forward thinking, adventurous strategies that are compelling enough to make schools stay with them rather than going private (i.e. becoming an Academy...)

Sorry, link to blog post as mentioned: http://goo.gl/ttG2r

You have to Have a decent sized pipe and if you are a long way from the hub then none of this applies.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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