Why are schools switching to a hybrid cloud environment?

It’s been a challenging year, one that few of us will forget.  The Education sector was also left asking big questions. Were we ready for home learning, did we have the right tools to deliver a quality learning experience for our students? Was our approach well thought out, considered and effective?

Technology is now fundamental in so many areas of our lives. Many of our habits have been completely altered by it, I’m sure many of you reading this now order your groceries online, video call relatives via Zoom or WhatsApp and stream any on-demand box set without waiting for it to come on TV. Industry has been transformed, video calls are steadily replacing face to face meetings, banking is now almost completely online and working from home is becoming a standard expectation within Generation Z.

So, it was only a matter of time before this transformation took hold within the Education sector. Over the last year, many of us have had to quickly adopt collaborative cloud platforms such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Workspace for Education and Zoom to meet expectations around home learning.

In fact, Zoom’s incredible growth over the pandemic has made it a household name. A verb in fact. We are now used to the idea that we will “Zoom” each other. There is no doubt that it has helped overcome many of the challenges posed by the Pandemic. Now, as they focus on the Education sector and challenge Microsoft and Google’s dominance I’m sure we will see more incredible tools that we may want to take advantage of in the future.

While we have seen the benefits first-hand, we may have wished we had a little more time to consider the best path to implement these new cloud platforms. So now as we return to some normality we can finally reflect. How can we continuously improve our offering while keeping many of the great online collaboration and communication tools we have discovered?

Multi-Academy Trusts are at the front of the queue when it comes to collaboration. The need to provide a consistent learning environment both physically and digitally across different schools is a model that many desire. But today, many schools within a trust act like islands. Typically each school has its own files, folders and learning resources that are only accessible to users within the school. This leaves staff at the head office and those that work across different schools with some challenges. They now have multiple credentials for each school. Possibly having to log out of one platform and into another to collaborate with different people at different schools.

We know the answer is the cloud. The ability to unify the IT system on a single cloud platform and access it from anywhere ticks the box. But which one? Microsoft and Google have both established themselves as obvious choices. Each of them provides the ability to import existing users and classes into their platforms and wrap in incredible collaboration features.

Google has stormed the industry boasting some 40 million students using Google Classroom. A tool that is fantastic for issuing assignments and tracking student progression. Many teachers love its ease of use and it has become a staple part of their lesson delivery. It is designed for use in class and on its own, it does not always meet the needs of other parts of the school. For example, it may not help us remember all those passwords for different schools or help the office team send out the school newsletter next week.

For these and other day-to-day tasks that are required for running a school, we need to look to Google’s G Suite for Education or Microsoft’s Office 365. Many of us are so familiar with Microsoft’s email client “Outlook” that moving to a web-based email platform like Gmail is enough to make us stick with a Microsoft solution. But both platforms provide schools with basically unlimited storage for files, collaboration tools, email, calendars, online tools for word processing and spreadsheets. Arguably Microsoft’s platform steals the crown here. With a wealth of data security badges and a more seamless integration with existing IT solutions, it’s often the preferred choice for IT Managers, business managers and CEO’s; and let’s not ignore that Microsoft Teams has exploded in the industry and is quickly gaining on Google’s dominance in the classroom.

So we could say that Google is a great answer in class and for the business of teaching and learning, whilst Microsoft is great for the business of running a school. But we still need more.

If the scope of a schools requirement for IT was limited to editing documents, email and calls then you could settle on one of these platforms.  Additionally, we all recognise that Education uses technology in a very diverse way. While Google and Microsoft can offer tools that cater for most of a schools requirements, we still need to consider other IT services to unify a trust. These non-cloud services are things like cashless catering systems, CCTV, library management systems to name a few. Adobe is still a key player in the classroom when it comes to photo and video editing, and let’s not forget that in a lot of cases the Student Management System is tied to your school network and securely accessing it from home presents a challenge.

Why are schools switching to a hybrid cloud environment

So perhaps the answer isn’t 100% cloud yet. Perhaps it’s Hybrid.

Hybrid offers some flexibility. With this idea, you can pile all those documents into Microsoft or Google and reduce your server estate (and in turn, your carbon footprint!). Your school can use Classroom or Teams to enable digital collaboration and communication; but also keep access to your school’s dependent resources such as legacy applications, student management systems and non-cloud services.

Possibly the biggest advantage to Hybrid is the ability to use the best of both. Not settling on a single solution leaves you open to adopt the very best product for each part of your school, and having lots of great products and platforms means you can provide your students with the very best experience and gather the very best data. But that data is now disparate.

Let’s take an example, imagine being able to view a dashboard displaying information from your Student Management System that lists students in a class, next to their names perhaps the last time those students logged into your Office 365 environment and finally what time they submitted their last assignment to your chosen homework platform.

This would allow you to identify those students that are scrambling to complete homework last minute and submitting it late at night. Perhaps you want to encourage them to do it a bit earlier and get a good night’s sleep to keep their creative streak alive. This would be impossible without a tool that can tie your Student Information System to your Office 365 environment and homework submission platform.

It’s also worth noting that with all these disparate platforms, your IT support team might start to get a little worried about how busy they will be! What is really needed is a tool to tie everything together. TileAcademy is designed to do just that. It’s an Identity service that can securely store logins to different cloud platforms, school networks and third-party websites. This means you can login once with your preferred cloud account and access all the documents, applications and tools you require from lots of different places without needing to login again, it’s called Single Sign-On. It can also deliver those non-cloud services such as your Student Information System or Adobe Photoshop in a cloud-friendly way, this means you can pick up your iPad or Chromebook and jump on SIMS for example.

Its main strength is aggregation and curation. TileAcademy has the ability to pull disparate resources together allowing you to create dynamic lessons, newsletters and engaging revision banks containing documents, images and videos from any cloud platform or even documents in school. This allows you to share any resource with a class of students, a group of people in a school, another school in the trust or even anyone in the world.

For the Multi-Academy Trusts, TileAcademy is also adding more and more integrations to the platform every week to help business leaders compare datasets from different schools and third party services in a single dashboard. Trusts can quickly plug a new school into their trust group without needing a big IT overhaul to get that school onboard. Letting them continue to run with their existing platforms and migrate into the trust in a controlled manner. With this approach, MATs can take time to see which cloud platforms are working and which are not before throwing all their eggs in one basket.

So, if you are unsure what cloud platform you should settle on, the answer could be all of them. By using TileAcademy you are not constrained to work in a fixed way, you are free to pick and choose.

Our development team are fully focused on the Education sector, so we are taking on feedback and developing it into our platform. If a MAT has a specific request, we would love to hear from you.

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