There has been a lot of talk about using “the cloud” for storing and sharing data. In our previous blog post, we already reviewed cloud storage providers such as Slashtmp.iu.edu, SkyDrive, Dropbox, and Box.com. Recently, Indiana University and Box.com came to an agreement to provide cloud-based storage to its faculty staff, and students at IU. In this blog post, we focus on how the use of cloud-based storage could be used in education.
What is cloud-based storage?
When we trying to understand ‘the cloud’, think about how many people use the bank system today. While one’s money is still located in a centralized place (e.g., in the bank’s vault), it is accessible at many different locations (e.g., ATMs). As one interacts with an ATM, one can see the current amount and money can be added to/withdrawn from the account. Immediately, the amount on one’s account is updated to reflect the changes. Similarly, you can access your files from any device with an internet connection, much as you can access your money from an ATM, a website, or a physical bank. It is common to use online banking instead of offline banking. One does not have to go to the bank in person but one can deposit, transfer, and even make payments all online. Like banking, cloud-based storage provides an account to upload, download, and share data with multiple of devices. Additionally, it offers to opportunity to do all these things through a website similar to online banking. Many individuals and organizations are now using cloud storage for diverse reasons, for example, data storage, data sharing, and collaboration.
Use of cloud-based storage in education
Educational institutions are taking advantage of the cloud as more and more schools are teaching courses that involve using digital media, such as pictures or videos. Cloud-based storage can help students and teachers easily access and share data anywhere and anytime.
Important features for education
Most cloud-based storage providers have common features like data backup, accessibility, and security features. The following aspects of the cloud are especially relevant for education.
1. Synchronization in real-time
One of useful features of cloud storage is remote backup. Cloud backup works similar way to traditional backup except the fact data are being moved to a server through the Internet rather than carrying it onto physical hard drive, e.g., USB drive. In school, any file one saves to cloud-based storages is automatically synchronized to all enabled devices such as a desktop, laptop, tablet , as well as the webpage of the cloud-based storages (e.g. Dropbox.com, box.com). To automatically sync all of files to one’s devices, all one need to do is to download and install a program from the storage provider.
For example, if I add audio files to a cloud-based storage from my desktop, it is possible to play the file without having to download it, on my iPad, iPhone, and home laptop as it is already saved on my account in cloud-based storage.
Imagine you are collaborating on a project with a number of people in different places, and the project involves a set of Word documents. You might want to have a common place to store those files. With cloud-based storage’s synchronization function, your collaborators can independently open the documents, work on them, and save them to the one centralized place. With many different sub-applications available, much cloud-based storage focuses on collaboration function. For example, Agilewords makes it easy to collect group feedback, make online edits, track changes, and get quick reviewers’ approval. Other collaboration applications that are designed for specific fields are AutoCAD WS, for opening CAD files, AppFusions’ Box in Atlassian JIRA, DICOM Viewer for medical images, and eSurvey Mobile Forms for mobile survey.
Some cloud storage providers such as Google Drive and CloudOn provide users with an editing feature for documents. Google Drive, for example, enables users to create, share, and edit files and collaborate with others. However, they do not have offline support to create, share, and edit.
Some things to consider:
Before jumping on the ‘cloud’ bandwagon, there are several things to consider.
- Low cost is used for operation compared to electronic data storage devices.
- It has automatic backup and recovery systems so no one worries about data loss.
- Data server is safely secured by the provider.
- Service costs may by rising as the amount of data increases.
- High internet speed is required to make connections and backup a large scale file.
- If the provider server is hacked, security for data in cloud storage is not guaranteed.
Additional resources: Cloud storage comparison chart