Are Students’ School Records Safe in the Cloud?
Would you want your child’s school records to be stored online in the cloud? These days, technology is an integral part of the school experience. From e-textbooks to internet research, most students do some of their schoolwork online every day. And soon, students (and their parents) may be able to access their school records from cloud-based services. But what are the benefits and risks that come with storing data in the cloud?
Benefits for schools
The largest benefit for schools that opt to use cloud-based computing services is cost reduction. The Chicago public school system anticipates saving “$6 million dollars over the next three years by switching to Google’s free, cloud-based e-mail services” (Education Week). By using Google’s services, the school system will eliminate the need for expensive on-site server systems and other computer hardware, along with cutting down on the maintenance costs required to run and maintain such equipment.
Schools using cloud-based storage also free up memory space on school computers, since there will not be any software program that must be downloaded to every computer and device.
Benefits for students and parents
Saving money on computer equipment will create space in tight school budgets for facility maintenance, higher salaries for faculty, funding for arts programs or whatever improvement individual districts sorely need.
Cloud-based storage systems for e-mail and school records allow students and parents to access that information from anywhere, on any device, rather than being tied to the school computer system.
There are many opportunities for such systems to provide actual classroom content for students and teachers. Math tutorials and virtual science labs are just a couple of the possibilities (Education Week).
Risks of cloud computing
Many educators and parents are concerned about the security of online storage systems. As we all know, passwords can be hacked, and some are concerned about the safety of storing sensitive student information online. An article by Jeffrey Van Camp on digitaltrends.com reveals that companies offering free cloud storage offer no protection against deletion or corruption of files.
Additionally, the host company will have access to all sensitive student information, and “there are no promises that these services won’t freely share your files and information with the government or other companies… in fact, companies like Google are already being pressured to spy on the files you upload to see if any of them look like they’re ‘illegal’” (Digital Trends). It’s important for schools to “understand the company [they're] dealing with and look into how they deal with privacy concerns” to protect their students’ information (Education Week).
Most schools will also need to upgrade their bandwidth in order to handle the amount of internet traffic that cloud storage will introduce. The costs associated with infrastructure upgrades may be prohibitive for some school districts, but will likely be cheaper than maintaining physical servers in the long run.
The bottom line
Assuming that Google and other companies offering cloud storage won’t turn over student records to the government, it seems likely that cloud computing in some capacity is in the near future for many school districts, especially as laptop computers and iPads become more prevalent in the classroom. For many schools, the cheapest and easiest way to keep all information accessible and secure will be to send it to the cloud.
Photo credit: Brad Flickinger