Five Things You Don’t Know About Cloud Computing and Education

Jul 10, 2019

Over the last decade, we’ve seen educational institutions—from K-12 schools to colleges and universities—make tremendous strides in seizing the opportunities that modern technologies provide.

What you might not know is that these institutions are increasingly using the cloud to transform the efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness of our schools both around the country and across the world. In fact, 96 percent of leading research institutions are already using Amazon Web Services (AWS), as are 19 of the top 20 best-funded education technology startups. And as more schools continue to migrate workloads to the cloud, the benefits to students everywhere will multiply.

Here are the top five ways that the cloud is changing education today; many of them may surprise you.

1. Driving student success in the classroom and beyond

Ivy Tech can now predict with 84 percent accuracy which students are at risk of dropping out within the first two weeks of enrollment.

The ultimate goal of education is to help students grow and succeed, both in the classroom and in the workforce. The cloud can serve as a force multiplier in achieving this goal, putting additional tools to enhance student learning directly into the hands of educators. Indeed, hundreds of millions of students, educators, and researchers in more than 200 countries and territories have access to education technologies and online curricula running on AWS.

Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), for example, is using the cloud to identify students needing more help. They are developing a recommendation engine to leverage dropout rate data to predict and design interventions for at-risk students. The engine will also assess the outcomes of such interventions—information that will help tailor and improve recommendations over time.

The nation’s largest community college system is taking a similar approach, using technology to directly benefit students’ long-term success. With nearly 2 million student records at 23 campuses, Ivy Tech Community College adopted a cloud-based data warehouse service to perform predictive analytics in order to quickly identify students who are struggling and to then intervene early. Ivy Tech can now predict with 84 percent accuracy which students are at risk of dropping out within the first two weeks of enrollment. After intervening and supporting approximately 16,000 students, dropout rates have decreased and test scores have improved.

Ivy Tech Community College Runs Petabyte-Scale Data Warehouse and Analytics on AWS.
AWS Educate has released cloud badges for the following services:
  • RoboMaker makes it easier to develop, test, and deploy intelligent robotics applications at scale.
  • Sumerian lets you create and run virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D applications quickly and easily without requiring any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise.
  • DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale race car, which gives you an interesting and fun way to get started with reinforcement learning (RL).

2. Keeping student data safe

The above examples demonstrate how K-12 and higher education institutions can process vast amounts of data to glean insights that benefit students. But with data collection and analysis comes the responsibility of protecting student information. This is particularly important in an age when data breaches and identity theft are becoming increasingly common. AWS takes the security of the cloud seriously, and we are vigilant in our efforts to maintain the trust of those who use our services. Just as the threats continue to morph, we continue to innovate so that the data of all students is protected.

Compliance with common privacy and security frameworks—known by acronyms such as FERPA and the EU’s GDPR—are critical components of data safety; many data management vendors have achieved these levels of compliance. But did you know that it’s possible to go beyond basic compliance to monitor data? AWS’s security offerings include auditing, log in identity management and data encryption capabilities that offer more transparency and control to allow schools to rigorously protect student data.

Like compliance and data protection, building highly available and resilient on-premise servers can be very costly for many educational institutions. Critical systems hosted on-premises are often a single point of failure, and schools run the risk of losing access to valuable student data—whether that is at the hands of a squirrel that chewed through a line or a snowstorm taking down power. AWS provides services and infrastructure to build reliable, fault-tolerant, and highly available systems in the cloud.


Amazon WorkSpaces for Education is a cloud-based, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution that helps higher education institutions and K-12 school districts give students and instructors consistent access to teaching and learning software on their own devices. Watch the video to see how it works.


3. Making technology dollars stretch further

Switching to the cloud allows schools to reallocate their limited resources towards teaching and learning.

Not only is the cloud the right solution to improve student outcomes and data security, but it also supports fiscal responsibility. Building and maintaining data centers requires high levels of investment and significant continued maintenance costs. Switching to the cloud allows schools to reallocate their limited resources towards teaching and learning. Through its pay-as-you-go model, the cloud offers school districts the flexibility and agility to scale up during peak times—like back-to-school season and end-of-grading periods—and scale down over breaks when server needs are low.

The cloud can help reduce operational costs for all forms of educational institutions. For example, through its migration to the cloud, University of Notre Dame saved 40 percent on its annual IT operations—without eliminating any positions. Code.org is another great example; it saves $1.3 million in annual operation costs by leveraging the scalability and agility of AWS.

University of Notre Dame Migrates Website to AWS and Lowers its Operational Costs by 40 percent.

4. Saving educators’ time

Cloud technology is also saving another invaluable resource—teachers’ time.

Cloud technology is also saving another invaluable resource—teachers’ time. By creating access to new lesson planning resources, better identifying which interventions are working best and even grading papers, the cloud is making it possible to save precious hours every week.

For example, Santillana, the largest education publisher in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world, has created a cloud-based digital platform that allows educators to teach the curriculum and provide assessments that are personalized to each student based on his or her progress. Tests are graded by machine learning, allowing students to receive feedback immediately online, and allowing teachers to complete grading a class assignment in less than 30 minutes versus an average of five hours. Santillana estimates that this alone has given teachers about 30 additional hours per subject per year to spend on better preparing for their classes—instead of grading.

Santillana Uses AWS to Transform K-12 Education with New Learning Methods and Technologies.

5. Leveling the playing field

Technology is omnipresent in many schools, but leveraging tech to develop more equitable and personalized learning experience for students is not easy.

Technology is omnipresent in many schools, but leveraging tech to develop more equitable and personalized learning experience for students is not easy. Distance learning, limited classroom space, and the specialized software needed for STEM and creative fields are rapidly making the computer lab obsolete. Schools in rural or less affluent locales can’t always afford licensing software for each student—further compounding these effects. Districts need another way to deliver learning applications to students.

Through secure application streaming services that leverage the cloud, school districts are now able to stream desktop applications to any computer running a web browser. Peninsula School District, located in Gig Harbor, Washington, relies on such streaming services so that technology can be used at home, granting students unlimited exposure to industry standard tools.

Higher education institutions are taking similar approaches. Cornell University, for example, developed a Masters-level course hosted on Amazon WorkSpaces. The solution allowed them to provide support, get students up and running on day one of class, and provide the flexibility needed for today’s college students—offering access to hands-on experiences on any device whether in the classroom, in the dorms, or in the dining hall.

Cornell University Uses the AWS Cloud to Reimagine Course Delivery.

Cloud technology is a powerful tool that schools can use to improve student outcomes, keep student data safe, stretch budgets further, save educators’ time and increase equity in learning. To fully realize these benefits, more work must be done to broaden and deepen the adoption of cloud technologies across the education spectrum. We need to use all avenues to make sure that our students are supported—and this means migrating to and utilizing the cloud and the technologies it offers.


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