We spoke to George Wraith, Head of ICT at New College Durham, on how technology is playing a crucial role in enabling a stimulating teaching environment with the most up to date learning resources.
Until seven years ago, most of the education sector pursued a centralised IT strategy – and our college was no different. The key driver was costs. This approach allowed us to manage and control the costs of people, equipment, set-up and management from one place.
Around 2010, the emergence of mobile technologies triggered a gradual but notable shift to an increasingly decentralized approach. Students began using their own laptops and teachers began using Internet-based teaching resources. New College Durham embraced the adoption of mobility on campus. The IT team set up the systems, specified the devices and then passed it on to the college staff to manage.
Since then, various departments at our college have directly purchased applications or cloud-based systems to improve the quality of teaching. But this can present challenges for the IT department. Sometimes we’re by-passed until the point of system implementation or involved only when there’s a problem that needs fixing. It’s an unexpected drain on our IT resources and results in cost and management inefficiencies.
But it’s not just about resources. Data protection must be a key consideration when any cloud-based applications are evaluated for use at the college. We are bound by strict data protection regulations and we have a governance team to ensure compliance. For example, all personal data must reside in the UK – this clearly impacts on the suitability of different cloud services for some applications.
Of course, used in the right way, the cloud offers our college a valuable, complementary resource to our existing IT infrastructure. Our students use Office 365 and benefit greatly from our VLE (virtual learning environment), a cloud-based system that allows teachers to share educational materials with students. Some of our corporate systems are cloud-based and our disaster recovery set-up relies on VMware vCloud Air.
I believe that cloud services will gain in popularity throughout the education sector, but we need to find the right balance between innovation for college departments and control for the IT team. That’s why the Cross-Cloud Architecture announcement from VMware is so important – it’s designed to give organizations the freedom to innovate while maintaining control.