The number of higher education institutions (HEIs) moving their student email (and, in many cases, staff email) to a cloud solution continues to grow. Every other day there is a new report one one HEI or other adopting either Google or Microsoft. Intrinsically I am not against this although I do find it interesting how little debate there is about integrating so completely with such overtly commercial companies. By the way, let’s not kid ourselves that that Google are any less of a ruthless corporate entity than Microsoft or Apple or Oracle or any large IT company.
You could say, well it’s just email and why shouldn’t a HEI outsource its email service as it would any other IT service and allow its hard pressed IT groups to focus on the key activities of the institution. The thing is, it’s not just email; it’s ‘collaboration spaces’, wikis, blogs, user sites, documents, forms and more. Again, I am quite happy for this to occur. What I am more interested in is what happens when you make all of these applications available to staff and students.
If I can have a blog or wiki with Google or Microsoft as part of the HEI cloud offering then why do I need to use whatever is in the LMS/VLE? If I have my own Google or Microsoft site that I can control who sees what artefacts in, then why do i need an e-portfolio application? If I can use Google Talk or Microsoft Lync then why do I need any other real time web based collaboration tool.
Sure the LMS/VLE does a bit more than blogs and wikis (which they often don’t do very well) and an e-portfolio might tie more neatly into some sort of assessment process (though only because the purpose of e-portfolios is often subverted) and yes, some, real time web conferencing tools might have some quizzing component that hardly anybody ever uses. None of that is going to stop early adopters using the new HEI cloud solutions in new and interesting ways. An outcome that I think is pretty good.
It does have implications though, the days when everything was more less forced into the LMS/VLE bucket will have to formally deemed to be over (this is a good thing). The range of tools and opportunities for using educational technologies will increase even further. We will have institution educational technology hosted services (maybe through a private cloud), a cloud solution for collaboration via either Google or Microsoft and then a huge range of external cloud based solutions often selected by individuals or groups within the HEI.
Inevitably there will be quite a bit of modification in service provision by all types of provider but those with the most to lose will be those that have focussed on dedicated HEI educational technologies.
The other thing that we will finally have to give up is the pretence that what is crucial for educational technology uptake in an HEI is that everything should be accessible via the same standard interface.
Now of course in an ideal world that might be the case but in reality it never was in the past, it isn’t now and it certainly won’t be in the future. What is needed more than anything is for educators to clearly tell their students what they need to do to complete their course and where to go online in order to do it. Something that seems to happen very rarely because most HEI e-learning content isn’t very good.
All of that is the topic of another post.
Back to the cloud. I think I’ll just finish by saying I’m pretty glad that HEIs are moving to cloud email and collaboration. I also think the disruptive effects will be be far more profound than most people realise. As a result I, for one, welcome our Google/Microsoft overlords.