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School in the Cloud: The Unanswered Question

Created: 08 Mar 2013 • Updated: 09 Apr 2013 • 1 comment
Mike Maxwell's picture
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These days, it seems you can’t toss your mortarboard into the air without hitting a story on cloud-based education. But if you still haven’t gotten your fill, there's a TED Talk for that.

Actually, there's a TED Prize—awarded this year to Newcastle University professor Sugata Mitra for his pioneering work on self-guided learning in the cloud.

In Mitra's vision, students congregate in Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) overseen by virtual teachers on Skype.

It’s an exciting future, to be sure. But before we start re-writing the education manuals, it’s time to think seriously about one aspect that’s missing from Mitra’s proposal: information security and management.

Just as Mitra labels learning systems of the past as "outdated," the same should be said for legacy education security tools like physical lockers and combination locks. Hence, it's essential that we evolve our security infrastructure at the same rate (if not faster) than we evolve our learning systems.

In fact, the very prospect of self-guided learning will place an enormous burden on the security and integrity of our online learning technologies. For parents and teachers to feel comfortable with children guiding themselves through an Internet-based curriculum, the trust in those online systems has to be ironclad.

In particular, there are concerns about violations of student privacy, student access to inappropriate content, and something known as the “catfish effect.” (For those unfamiliar, this term refers to students faking their identities online or finding surrogates to take online tests, participate in online classrooms, or contribute to online workgroups.) Naturally, a system for validating student identities is a significant part of the solution.

Furthermore, it's not just data security that we need to consider. Moving our whole learning system online means greater reliance on system availability and up time, which creates a significant need for data storage, disaster recover and continuity of operations.

Ultimately, we need to make these investments in information security and management today (particularly at the state and local levels) in order to realize the exciting education future of tomorrow.

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Tariq Naik's picture

Yes I had seen that TED talk and it sounded very interesting and inspiring way to take educations to those whom it has so far not reached and keep it relevant to in today's fast changing times. I agree with you that it will require a lot of thought process and new technologies and processes to ensure that the cloud can deliver to its potential.

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