Cloud computing continues to be one of the top “buzz words” as predicted in CORE’s Ten Trends. Released this year from Educause is a new book titled “The Tower and the Cloud, edited by Richard Katz – available as a free electronic download (2.4Mb PDF).
This volume tackles some of the questions and challenges for the education system such as “How are ‘cloud’ technologies and applications already affecting us?” and “What does that say about how they are likely to evolve and impact us in the future?” Although the focus is primarily on higher (tertiary) education, much of what is described applies more generally to the broader framework of our education system.
In her forward to the book, Diana Oblinger comments;
“While not offering a crystal ball, [the book] does provide a series of reasoned, analytical perspectives on how current trends may unfold, altering our institutions and the higher education landscape in a future that may arrive faster than we expect. In reading it, we are all challenged to move beyond acknowledging the pace of technological change to envisioning all that the tower can be if we embrace the cloud.”
The metaphor of the “tower” (the tradition, silo-ed, autonomous institution) and the “cloud” (the concept of ubiquity, sharing, collaboration etc.) is well explored in each of the contributed chapters, exposing the obvious tensions and paradox, and providing both food for thought and some practical ideas on how things may unfold.
I was particularly pleased to note Katz’s comment that “It is still all about empowerment” – a theme that emerges several times in the book, raising the question; “What is the role of the institution in a world where individuals are empowered to seek solutions anywhere in the network cloud?”
I’ve found this volume of particular interest in light of the work I am currently doing with a school that is aggressively pursuing a vision of positioning itself “in the cloud”, and considering my own organisation where we’ve recently moved some of what we do into the same space. Ideas in the book that particuarly challenge me include the concept of a ‘cloud academy’ (p.22), new models of governance and scholarship (p.108) and the raft of issues around open source and open content (chapter 5) – all of which present huge challenges at a systemic level within our education system.
The figure included at the bottom of page 76 of the book, titled “Towards a Strategically Unified Information Future” (below) bears an uncanny resemblance to the eLearning Framework I helped develop here in NZ five years ago, and also underpins the thinking behind the eFramework development initiated by JISC and partners.
It is when thinking like this that the enormity of the task really impresses itself on our thinking. Adapting to the cloud is not a technical problem, it is a behavioural one – and the fact is that the technology is now enabling the more rapid change in the behaviour of individuals, while being resisted by larger organisations and institutions, be they univeristies, local governments, businesses or government departments.
Now there’s something for everyone in the education system to think seriously about – from the BOT of the smallest rural school, through to the CIOs in our education agencies!