Why Higher Education Institutions Must Migrate to the Cloud

The world of education moves slowly, such that significant change is hard to come by. However, we may actually be seeing some of this kind of change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, there has been a massive day-to-day disruption in how education is practiced. In a broader and possibly more permanent sense though, the conditions of 2020 may also have helped to nudge higher education institutions toward cloud operations.

Why might this be the case? As an interesting write-up on Information Week put it, moving to the cloud “presents an opportunity” for these institutions to offset financial consequences of the pandemic — as well as “deliver virtual learning” and “power faculty-student engagement” whether or not students return to campuses. And that’s to say nothing of smoothing out internal operations (which is something we’ll touch on further below).

These are actually ideas that are already spreading naturally (and thus proving their value) in online higher education institutions. Espousing the benefits of more tech-oriented education, a president at Maryville University was quoted by Higher Ed Drive saying universities should be “agile facilitators” of knowledge. Said president, one Mark Lombardi, discusses the idea of “building models” in digital space where students can utilize various pathways to information, and enjoy personalized experiences rather than the same old professor-to-classroom download of knowledge. He’s describing a dynamic and versatile education system that in fact can only be constructed thanks to the capabilities of modern cloud systems.

It is this perspective that has allowed Maryville University to design degree programs in a way that addresses the demand for interdisciplinary business competencies in the age of digital transformation. For instance, the online business administration degree at Maryville University includes intensive training in financial, managerial, analytical, and other crucial business skills. Not only is it a stepping stone to the university’s master’s degree in business administration, but also their master’s programs in accounting, business data analytics, health administration, and cybersecurity. From the first year onwards, Maryville’s business students are able to see and pick their different career pathways – empowered by the online university’s dynamic, interdisciplinary, and cloud-powered methods of teaching.

This does not mean that the future of all education is online, and in fact, Lombardi himself acknowledges that instruction will always be necessary. But access to more dynamic, cloud-based programs for the sharing of information and the personalization of degrees does appear to be a likely path forward. This is especially true in the age of remote working, which students of Maryville University’s online classes are already being prepped for as well.

On top of all this, we’re also beginning to see some higher education institutions making more strategic use of cloud services for internal practices. Our look at ‘3 Ways Universities Are Becoming More Agile in Higher Education’ dug into this topic in more depth, with a specific focus on Arizona State — one of the largest and most innovative universities in the United States. As we noted there, colleges like ASU are taking influence from tech companies by “searching for new ways to improve workflows to better support the rate of their innovation.”

This is explained in more detail in a case study on Arizona State’s use of Atlassian. To give a general idea though, Arizona State is working to “integrate data-driven decision making” in order to provide more opportunities for students. And it is doing so in part by bringing on a Chief Information Officer and implementing Atlassian usage to bring about agile transformation. This is effectively an example of a massive educational institution adopting cloud practices, data strategies, and agile practices in order to improve its own product.

We’d expect to see a combination of these methods and examples moving forward. Both online and in-person universities will use the cloud for direct educational benefits and internal innovations. Some of the resulting changes and strategies will suit a possible transition to more permanent remote learning following the pandemic. Even in a more general sense though, these innovations will ultimately save costs, increase engagement, and lay the foundation for further innovation in modern education.

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Prepared by Alicia Mason