Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College has migrated away from its traditional IT to a Google cloud-based system to enable learning beyond the classroom.
It started the migration to the cloud in 2008 with a view to providing staff and students with tools that could connect education to the world and take advantage of the new technologies that can transform the classroom, said the college’s head of IT services, Martin King.
It began using Google Apps in simple ways, such as collaborating on group projects in Google Drive or sharing assignments and feedback in real time, even if students were not in class.
The college’s staff and students are now using the collaborative tools in increasingly inventive ways.
The Google cloud infrastructure has enabled the college’s IT department to provide any time, anywhere access to a productivity suite that encourages collaboration.
Every student and staff member receives a Google account and access to the full suite of Google Apps for Education. Each year, 20,000 new accounts are created, providing 600TB in less than five minutes. In total, the IT team manages about 75,000 accounts.
In terms of staff email alone, this is saves the college £2,000 a year in energy costs and reduces emissions by 16 tonnes each year, as well as eliminating expensive server disposal costs.
But that is not all. As a result of the cloud, a lot of education takes place outside the classroom.
“For example, we might help students find mentors from the BBC or Michelin-starred restaurants, or show them how to produce their own music album under the college’s own record label,” King wrote on the Google Enterprise blog.
The IT can now enable teachers and students across all campuses to instantly share data and collaborate using any device.
“Teachers can offer around-the-clock feedback and support on work, while students have created online study groups where they exchange ideas and encourage each other,” said King.
More on Google Apps
Meeting data and privacy standards
But breaking away from traditional, legacy IT and moving to the cloud has not been a smooth ride.
“Making the case for a new technological approach will always encounter objections," said King. "Although we talk a lot about openness, our administrators would not have allowed us to use Google Apps if it didn’t meet the UK’s high standards for data privacy and security.
“After consultation with UK academic institutions, the conclusion was that, with Google, we’re actually even more secure.”
In the past, the institution has had the occasional problem of someone losing a USB stick with data on it. Storing data on the cloud means the IT team does not have to worry about staff or students losing sensitive data.
Transforming the learning journey
After implementing the cloud strategy and cloud applications, the IT team found that the college’s staff and students use collaborative tools in increasingly inventive ways to transform their learning horizons.
With any device – whether a smartphone or laptop – teachers and students across all campuses instantly share college projects, post articles of interest and announce events. The college's legacy IT did not facilitate such collaboration and restricted learning to classrooms.
“It’s been six years since we began going Google and we’re still discovering new ways to use cloud applications to broaden our students’ learning horizons. This is especially important at a further education college," said King.
Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College has always been at the forefront of using new technology in education, according to King. It was one of the first colleges to connect its systems to the internet in 1996. It was also the first to develop a “web-first” strategy in 1998 and a “mobile-first” strategy in 2001.