A few years ago, my university began introducing cloud based networks in student labs and faculty offices. Students can log into any computer on campus and access a wide variety of application software with a consistent user interface. Faculty can access the same applications as students, in addition to class preparation and test bank software. While this network is functional and convenient, it does not embrace the full cloud computing experience. Faculty can store files on the campus network, whereas students cannot. Both students and faculty cannot access the cloud based network from a personal device whether they are on- or off-campus.
As a computer business systems instructor, the limitations of this network causes problems for students and myself. My students sometimes have difficulty completing assignments, since they either have to be on-campus to access the software, or they have to pay over a hundred dollars to access the software from home. For myself, I mark student assignments and exams at home, as I want to spend time with my family and work at my convenience. There are privacy issues related to storing student information with third-party services such as Dropbox, so I have to use USB drives or faculty e-mail accounts to transfer student files. This current method of transferring data is also problematic due to the potential loss of USB drives and e-mail attachment limits.
I want to address these concerns at my university and a study by Behrend, Wiebe, London, and Johnson (2011) provides insight into student behaviour that can help my university proceed in the full implementation of cloud computing. The context of the research was at two community colleges in the United States using a cloud computing platform called Virtual Computing Lab. Through student surveys, Behrend et al. (2011, pp. 237-238) discovered the following about student usage on this platform:
- Ease of use affects student usage.
- Usefulness affects student beliefs and intentions for future usage.
- Situational factors, such as software access and ease of travel to campus, affects usefulness and ease of use.
The first item is important to achieve, since not all students are technologically adept. The learning curve must be small, and online tutorials should be provided to students that are easy to find on the university website. Moreover, drop-in workshops can be offered for students who want face-to-face instruction on how to use the cloud based system. For courses with a substantial use of technology, instructors can demonstrate the platform in class.
In response to the second item, students need to be educated not only on how to use the cloud based tools, but how the tools benefit them. Students need to be informed that they no longer have to work on campus to access software and files, and that they can use their desktops, laptops, tablets, and even smartphones to access university resources. I would also inform students that this method of computing is not unique to an educational setting. Many organizations around the world use this technology to conduct business. Learning this type of computing would also be an asset for students after graduation when seeking employment.
The last item is the most interesting for me. There are many students who live in rural areas that require a long commute to campus. Moreover, with increased costs of living, tuition, and textbooks, additional costs for software is preventing some students from completing their credentials. The full implementation of cloud computing can attract more students to my university and eliminate the need for students to purchase software to work off-campus. This expansion of our current cloud computing network can also open the door for more online, hybrid, and blended courses, another area which is of great interest to me.
Behrend, T. S., Wiebe, E. N., London, J. E., & Johnson, E. C. (2011). Cloud computing adoption and usage in community colleges. Behaviour & Information Techhnology, 30(2), 231-240.