Cloud based services within the education sector
Cloud computing has transformed the delivery of web based services across the education sector and it has the potential to improve the quality of education services for all students. It is set to fundamentally change how every school, college and university will manage their technology and their ICT service delivery models. Improvements in cloud based services are enabling educational establishments to offer a richer and broader range of web based services to their students. The cloud based platforms that enable students to access day-to-day applications will change the business model for many education institutions and will throw into question how they finance and manage their ICT services and more importantly how they perceive the role, function, and purpose of their ICT paradigms. Overall trends show that schools, colleges and universities are gradually moving away from managing and hosting their own stand-alone services. To that end, we will see a growing momentum towards cloud based services that will enable an overall improvement in the way students access web based services.
Cloud computing has transformed the delivery of web based services across the education sector
Schools, colleges and universities have some way to go before they can begin to leverage their resources to enable wider and more equitable access to online services and resources. Nevertheless, the growing popularity of cloud based services will gradually eliminate the current divisions that exist between educational institutions and the students that they serve. Furthermore, it provides for an affordable and scalable model and it provides some financial relief for those schools, colleges and universities who face constraints on their education budgets.
The range and breadth of cloud based services for the education sector continues to grow and improve. Companies who offer cloud based services to the education sector typically include the following services within their portfolios; infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and software as a service. These services have been designed to be delivered over the web and educational institutions will need to ensure that they have the required bandwidth to enable them to provide these new and emerging services.
The lack of awareness of cloud based services, the inertia of education institutions to move away from traditional capital funding and expenditure models, reservations about moving core services to remotely held data centres, the reliance on a single web channel to deliver education services, structural weaknesses in national broadband networks and the difficulties associated with moving from one cloud based provider to another are all factors that constitute major barriers that prevent schools, colleges and universities from connecting to cloud based services.
If the education sector is able to embrace the power of cloud computing we will come closer to realising ubiquitous learning through the web
The rise of cloud computing means that individual schools, colleges and universities need to ready themselves for major structural changes in the way they manage their ICT estates and service portfolios. The education sector is in a period of rapid technological change that will bring about a new ICT service paradigm. The new paradigm will enable staff and students to access services across multiple platforms and that platform will be notably mobile. If the education sector is able to embrace the power of cloud computing we will come closer to realising ubiquitous learning through the web.
The most popular cloud based services that are currently used within the education sector are those that are provided by Microsoft (Office 365), Google (Google Apps) and Apple (iWork for iCloud). Over the last few years these companies have invested heavily in cloud based services and there has been a constant marketing and publicity drive to persuade educational establishments to adopt their services. All three companies have merits when it comes to providing cloud services to the education sector. For instance, they provide students and teachers the ability to access productivity packages such as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software; and the files that are produced by students can be accessed on multiple devices via a web browser. Students can also access collaboration tools that enable multiple users to exchange ideas and even to produce and edit the same piece of work regardless of time and place.
Office 365 includes numerous features such as: collaboration tools, office web apps, desktop office applications, email, calendar, web conferencing and voice services.
The Team Sites feature is probably the most appealing to teachers and students. Team Sites enables users to work collaboratively on multiple projects. Please note that Microsoft's social enterprise platform Yammer can provide educational institutions with additional collaboration services and tools on top of Office 365.
There are currently three Office 365 pricing plans for the education sector. Click here for more information on the various options available to schools, colleges and universities.
The adjacent video describes the adoption of Office 365 by the Peel District School Board. 
Google Apps for education provides a similar feature set as those provided by Microsoft's Office 365; but Google, as a web based company is providing the educational sector with solutions that are hard to ignore.
The ability for users to concurrently edit documents online makes Google Apps an attractive package for students and teachers.
The adjacent video describes the adoption of Google Apps by The University of St. Andrews. 
iWork for iCloud
Apple's iCloud service is the least mature of the three companies listed in this article. Nevertheless, iWork for iCloud enables teachers and students to access numerous services via a web browser; including, Mail, Calendar, Notes, Pages, Numbers and Keynote.
The company recently launched web based applications for Pages, Number and Keynote. The ability to create and edit documents online will be welcomed by many educational establishments. Schools distributing iBooks to students can also synchronise iBook access across multiple devices such as the iPad and iMac range.
The adjacent video shows the initial announcement by Apple of its iWork for iCloud service. 
If your school, college or university is agnostic about web based services then teachers and students can access their favourite apps via a web browser. In a world where the prime purpose of the networked device will be to connect to online services, educational establishments will gradually need to move their attention away from the device and more towards the services that can be accessed over them. This view point is supported by research conducted by Pew Internet in a report entitled 'The Future of Cloud Computing.' The report states that the majority of 'people won't do their work with software running on a general purpose PC. Instead, they will work in internet-based applications such as Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones.' The report also highlighted that 'many individuals had already made the switch to cloud based working, especially through the use of web browsers and social networking applications.'  If you own a smartphone you will no doubt have noticed the growing number of cloud based services that you have adopted; such as email, calendar, social media, banking, streaming music, online document storage, maps and many more. The same holds true for educational institutions were administrators, teachers and students have rapidly adopted cloud based services to support the delivery and consumption of education services.
The prime purpose of the networked device will be to connect to online services
At the present moment in time the dominant paradigm for accessing applications is over the networked device. This stems from a period where physical and wireless networks could not cope with the demands placed upon them so software companies designed and produced applications that could only be accessed on the end user device. As wired and wireless networks improved their ability to cope with additional network traffic, companies such as Microsoft, Google and other smaller education companies such as MLS (school library systems), Bromcom (education Management Information Systems) and Webanywhere (Learning Platforms) began to offer a broad and varied array of cloud based services for the education sector. This trend will continue to a point where the networked device will only serve one purpose; and that is to access online services. Google's Chromebook is an early example of such a device.
- Office 365: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cETS_8K-vJc
- Google Apps: vhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUD9PUBxZT8
- iWork for iCloud
- Pew Internet - The Future of Cloud Computing: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/The-future-of-cloud-computing/Overview.aspx
- If you are interested in cloud computing the following sites may be of help:
- What Campus Leaders Need to Know About Cloud Computing: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB4003.pdf
- Ontario Online Learning Portal for Faculty and Instructors: http://www.contactnorth.ca/trends-directions/cloud-computing
- Pew Internet - The Future of Cloud Computing: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/The-future-of-cloud-computing/Overview.asp