What is Cloud Computing?


The cloud is the term for the myriad of servers and other computers, often located in enormous data centers, that power the Internet. New cloud applications harness the unused resources of these computers to distribute applications, storage, and even processing power to users in ways that are increasingly useful, low cost, and ubiquitous. Applications like Gmail use the cloud as their platform, in the way that programs on a desktop computer use that single computer as a platform. Cloud-based applications use storage space and computing resources from many available machines as needed. “The cloud” denotes any group of computers used in this way. Improved infrastructure has made the cloud robust and reliable; as usage grows, the cloud is fundamentally changing our notions of computing and communication.

Many emerging technologies are supported in some way by the cloud: collaborative environments and tools like Ning, PageFlakes, Voicethread, and Google Apps are cloud applications. A wide variety of online communication tools are supported by cloud resources and many, many personal web tools are cloud-based. Data storage is cheap in these environments — pennies per gigabyte — so cheap that it is often provided in surprising quantities for free. Specialized applications like Flickr and YouTube provide options for hosting and sharing media; tools for creating multimedia projects, like Prezi and Vuvox, live in the cloud; and most social platforms, including Facebook, do as well. To the end user, the cloud is invisible, and the technology that supports the applications does not matter — the fact that the applications are always available, no matter what device is used to access them, is key.

INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - alan alan Jan 27, 2010

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • The cloud provides for an institution dynamic scaling of services. This is particularly relevant where institutions are delivering educational programs to students in distant locations and still need to provide a tailored learning environment or specialised software. Many institutions in Australia are taking advantage of this particular characteristic (Curtin and QUT come to mind immediately). - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • - mark.brown mark.brown Aug 24, 2010 Because cloud computing covers such a range of potential applications, I'm not sure one can generalise under this broad category. Perhaps it's time to identify a number of sub categories based on educational purposes rather than technology attributes to better understand their relevance to teaching and learning. For example, one cloud application with widespread potential are digital annotations tools which allow learners to record and share notes on digital documents and objects. These applications are far more sophisticated than Google docs and support the increasing digitalisation of learning resources with 'added value' from traditional printed-based study materials. In many respects, digital annotation could be worthy of a separate category on its own as their are now both online (e.g., Diigo) and offline (iAnnotate) solutions to this problem.
  • Increasingly, students may depend on cloud storage for their files giving them the freedom to access their files from many devices. I think this is the main way many students will use cloud technology. They may collaborate with tools like Google Docs, but this too is ultimately a cloud storage technology. But researchers will increasingly use cloud computing to do complex calculations in the cloud with supercomputers. This has been done for some time, but as networks improve, the possibilities expand for doing this. http://www.tacc.utexas.edu/news/feature-stories/2010/supercomputing-theres-an-app-for-that/ - KeeneH KeeneH Aug 25, 2010
  • What is interesting about the cloud is that these services are providing an alternative to both teachers/lecturers and students to be able to do collaborative activities which the institution is not yet providing. In fact, its allowing the educators to by-pass the locked down networks and limited services that are provided by institutions. When this happens the shift to the cloud puts increasing pressure on the IT departments and hence senior decision makers to be more responsive. - garry.putland garry.putland Aug 30, 2010
  • I like the fact, that if I use my phone and then the iPad and then the notebook, then I am accessing the same service (eg Google Docs) from multiple devices easily, seamlessly and from where and when I like. Now that's flexibility!!- garry.putland garry.putland Aug 30, 2010 Agreed. - michael.coughlan michael.coughlan Aug 31, 2010
  • I think Gary has got what I see as the major point. Sure, students are living in a Web 2.* world and are creating data and not finding the storage required on campus networks. Multiple unis are now outsourcing email to Google or MS. But where the interesting area is how one manages multiple devices, often without traditional file structures, via "the Cloud". Many iPad/iPhone Apps are now building in "Dropbox" or "dot.me" support (PDF ReaderPro, GoodReader etc) to give the flexibility Garry speaks of. - stephen.atherton stephen.atherton Aug 30, 2010
  • I agree with Mark that cloud computing covers a wide range of opportunities. However, if we think of the cloud in the way Garry describes above, then we have the foundation for the ultimate PLE and e-portfolio - ubiquitous and life-long access to all my files, applications and collaboration spaces. - derek.wenmoth derek.wenmoth Aug 31, 2010
  • Cloud computing also is putting a new face on enterprise disaster recovery planning. This is a variant of the dynamic scaling point but in a different context. UQ recently suffered from a fire caused by a failure in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) whose transformer ignited. UPSs may be perhaps the weakest link in data centres making them oxymorons, but I digress. The fire knocked out key IT services from the largest data centre on campus. Yet student email from Microsoft Live wasn't affected while staff email, locally served, was down along with the LMS and other key services. The ITS folks did a heroic job recovering essential services quickly but the new status quo has frozen development and anything non-essential because the remaining server rooms are at capacity with servers moved from development work to production. Had there been a baseline of cloud capability that could have been called upon UQ could have fallen back to the cloud for core interim services and still been able to continue at perhaps a lesser pace, development work that has otherwise been halted. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • I agree about the breadth of Cloud computing making it hard to have one topic I also agree that it is an essiential tool for back up to. But for me the key feature is that cloud computing is that it is the great leveler. The free access to applications reduces the cost for many schools and institutions - increasing access, Its portability means students are not confined to working in application enables workstations or having to invest in specific software to complete their work again increasing access. Cloud computing is enabling 24 hour learning in a platform independent mode. This removes the need to attend a particular institution at a particular time again leveling the playing field and flattening the classrooms. It also allows students to continue their collaboration on assignments and projects beyond the classroom or laboratory. This is in turn changing the ownership of student learning - Students are collaboratively developing their course materials and learning resources as part of their learning progression. - andrew.churches andrew.churches Sep 1, 2010
  • The cloud is making in roads into research as well as teaching, making it critical that we, as technology enablers, know what this means and how best to advise and assist students and staff. There are cloud application solutions, cloud storage solutions and cloud compute solutions, all of which are making in roads into teaching, research and the student experience. Some resercah groups have moved completely to the cloud for compute cycles and storage. At a national level a deal is being struck to provide national data storage solutions for universities through the Amazon cloud. - linda.obrien linda.obrien Sep 2, 2010
  • One of the interesting features of cloud computing is that it brings an economy of scale to organisations who would not normally benefit from this. As a consequence it will shortly become both more cost effective and more functionally beneficial for all but the very largest enterprises to outsource their infrastructure to the cloud. This is likely to include servers and storage and this will have a huge effect on the makeup of IT groups within universities - nick.tate nick.tate Sep 2, 2010


(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?
  • Cloud computing has three variants based on the 'location' of the cloud. This is characterised into the 'public cloud', 'private' clouds, and 'personal' clouds. The public cloud is widely distributed, geographically ambiguous and essentially open access to anyone worldwide. The applications like Google Mail, Apps, etc., fall into this classification. Private clouds are corporate services, generally providing computational resources for a fee and located in their server farms. Newly emerging are 'personal' clouds where individuals have disks accessible from the Internet from their personal local area networks (usually their home or office) that selectively share files, stream media, and provide access to an individual's digital assets from anywhere. Devices like the Pogoplug (http://www.pogoplug.com) represent this new direction of personal clouds. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • - mark.brown mark.brown Aug 24, 2010 The distinction between public, private and personal clouds in useful but this remains inherently technocentric and from a teaching and learning perspective there is a need to think about educational sub categories which potentially transcend all three types of clouds. We need to be wary that the attributes of the technology don't overly shape our thinking about how we describe the educational application or relevance.
  • cloud computing offers significant potential but also significant risks - at individual and organizational level. The change for Ning communities from free to chargeable hosting demonstrates the reality that a move to using the cloud is a move to being vulnerable to the decisions of others. This does not mean it should not be done but like any other decisions we make, we need to go in with our eyes open and identify and manage risks. It will influence our choice of applications in the cloud and what we use them for. - terry.neal terry.neal Aug 28, 2010
  • The issue of privacy and security are still of concern to many administrators and policy makers. However, if a risk assessment was done on educational activities and classified into high and low risk categories (eg from a data security perspective), there would be more acceptance of cloud services as an alternative, particularly for low risk activities. - garry.putland garry.putland Aug 30, 2010
  • there is now discussion about making all course content compliant with the new WCAG guidelines. This does not take into account that many courses now contain embedded content and material via RSS feeds that is coming in from the cloud and surely cannot be governed by any new set of compliance guidelines. New standards of compliance need to be flexible enough to acknowledge that an organisation simply cannot be held accountable for all the content that may appear in courses courtesy of the cloud. - michael.coughlan michael.coughlan Aug 31, 2010
  • we have recently begun using Microsoft's Windows Live/Skydrive suite of cloud applications. And Google Docs is now blocked! There is unfounded rumour that this may have been part of deal made with Microsoft. If so, does a vendor have the right to insert this kind of provision into a contract - requesting that alternative cloud providers be blocked? In any event, it's a backward step as those who have been using Google Docs or Box.net etc for some years are now unable to access this content in the workplace. - michael.coughlan michael.coughlan Aug 31, 2010
  • Issues of openness and interoperability, along with data security and access should be high on the list for policy makers (at an institutional and national level). Understanding that the cloud isn't simply 'moving my files off the local server' is important. Being 'captured' in the cloud is just as debilitating as if you were working off your own hard drive. - derek.wenmoth derek.wenmoth Aug 31, 2010
  • A real issue of who owns and is responsible for learning content is brought forward in consider variants of cloud services (enterprise, private external, public, or personal). I also think we need to be very clear about personal ownership and the rights of the learners to choose both where they wish to do their work and what they wish to include in it. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • The distinctions about public, private and personal are not just techno-centric distinctions, their distinctions about access, ownership and responsibility and who exercises them. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • I would add the issues of integrity of data - recovery from back up etc and of course the ownership of media published to sites like flickr , google etc - andrew.churches andrew.churches Sep 1, 2010
  • Power to find an IT solution is being placed back into the student or staff members hands in a way we haven't seen before. We need to think through the policy and legal issues and be ready to provide advice - linda.obrien linda.obrien Sep 2, 2010
  • Issues of jurisdiction will become increasingly important and this may mean that those countries with the best data privacy laws will be the preferred hosting locations. For example, the Patriot act in the USA would prevent some from using cloud storage in the USA and they would be likely to choose an EU jurisdiction instead - nick.tate nick.tate Sep 2, 2010


(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • Cloud services support collaborative learning activities
  • stating the obvious really but encourages greater use of rich media = bigger files. I'm already seeing an increased use of rich media in courses because storage of large media files is no longer an issue. - michael.coughlan michael.coughlan Aug 31, 2010
  • Services (including applications) on the cloud go a long way towards assisting students with ensuring they can work both collaboratively and independently with the tools they need to do the tasks they are set. For instance, a student using a high end (and high priced) design or presentation application can access it and work on even terms along with the rest of her/his classmates. The key issue now will become access, rather than ownership. - derek.wenmoth derek.wenmoth Aug 31, 2010
  • The issue of using the cloud to 'escape' from the confines of restrictive access in university computing policies is real, unfortunately, but has the dangerous side effect of failing to point a spotlight on this regressive and anachronistic policies around content. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • A real value in leveraging the different dimensions of the cloud is allowing the students to choose the tools that they wish to use and which are best suited for their learning tasks or projects. If these can be coupled with allowing their instructors or course supervisors access to this content, rather than having to somehow move it to the institution for assessment and recognition we'll have significantly opened up the opportunities for creative learning. We still need to build mechanisms by which this work can be assessed but doing so requires implementation of ideas pioneered by the Harvesting Gradebook (Gary Brown) or the Open Learning Network idea of Jon Mott and David Wiley - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • if, as seems likely, we start to see a blurring of the divide between VET and universities in Australia the cloud provides a great opportunity to provide access across sectors for students to e-portfolio and other tools, circumventing the needs for complex integration of solutions
  • We will see a migration to cloud based applications which, because of scale, will provide richer functionality at lower cost - nick.tate nick.tate Sep 2, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?
Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.- mark.brown mark.brown Aug 24, 2010 for digital annotation tools see...
https://secure.diigo.com/learn_more
  • We should list HiEd institutes in ANZ using outsourced mail services as an indication. How best to source? CAUDIT? - stephen.atherton stephen.atherton Aug 30, 2010
  • We're building a personal collection repository (I'm purposely avoiding the term ePortfolio ;-) that is designed so that the content repository location is optional. It can be on the student's personal machine, on their personal cloud, a "Repositories R Us" third-party service (e.g., from a local ISP) on a repository at department/school/faculty or provided by the institutions' IT enterprise services. The idea is to encourage publishing pointers to and metadata descriptors about the work when it is 'submitted' for assessment rather than the digital objects themselves-- Repositories of Learning Artefacts - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • I like Phillips avoidance of e-portfolios, but the work of Helen Barrett is relevant not only to "e-portfolios" but also to personal collection repositories Primary and secondary schools are increasing looking to the cloud as solutions for reflective journalling and celebrating student development - http://electronicportfolios.com/ - andrew.churches andrew.churches Sep 1, 2010
  • In the general section on Cloud Computing are some references to QUT and Curtin's use of cloud computing at the enterprise level. - Phillip.Long Phillip.Long Sep 1, 2010
  • Flatclassroom Project - http://www.flatclassroomproject.net/ - andrew.churches andrew.churches Sep 1, 2010
  • We have put student email into the Google cloud and they also have access to Google docs and Google sites - (Google sites being used in one of our courses for "e-portfolio" development). We also moving other data storage to cloud solutions and investigating the Blackboard hosted solution. As mentioned elsewhere my understanding is that a deal is being struck at a national level for data storage through Amazon - linda.obrien linda.obrien Sep 2, 2010
  • Yes. This is an example of both cloud storage and cloud computing for the Higher Education and Research sector which leverages the use of federated identity through the Australian Access Federation (AAF) www.arcs.org.au - nick.tate nick.tate Sep 2, 2010